Barack Obama, who today concludes three days of debate prep at Lake Las Vegas, has come here more and stayed here longer than any president before him, but he has yet to ride through Nevada in a stagecoach.
That distinction belongs to Rutherford B. Hayes, the first U.S. president ever to visit the Silver State.
At the end of his two-day swing through Northern Nevada in September 1880, Hayes rode by stagecoach from Carson City to Spooner Summit, where he caught a train to Lake Tahoe and left the state by steamboat.
Nevada wouldn't see another president for 21 years. Visits were sporadic at best - and almost never campaign-related - during the first half of the 20th century. It was simply too far to go for fewer than 100,000 constituents and three measly electoral votes.
"Nevada was a backwater. It was a blip on the radar screen," said Guy Rocha, historian and former state archivist.
That began to change with the rise of Las Vegas and the advent of Air Force One.
John F. Kennedy was the first president to fly into Nevada and the first to give a speech in Las Vegas. Every president before him arrived by rail.
The first president to saturate Nevada was Ronald Reagan, though his nine visits over two terms probably had more to do with the state's proximity to California and his close friendship with Gov.- turned-U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, Rocha said.
NEVADA GAINS IMPORTANCE
Nevada finally emerged as a legitimate political prize when the megaresorts and gaming giants began to take root on the Strip, he said.
"It isn't really until ... about 1996, when you had both (presidential) candidates and both vice presidential candidates visiting Nevada, that Vegas becomes a stop. It's a place to go find money," Rocha said. "In each successive election, Nevada plays a larger role."
Bill Clinton visited the state eight times in two terms, including seven stops in the Las Vegas Valley.
The state's political importance was finally cemented in 2000, Rocha said.
"We had an election decided by five electoral votes,'' Rocha said. "Our four votes, had they gone the other way, would have made the difference."
In the 12 years that followed, George W. Bush and Barack Obama made a combined 24 stops in Nevada, just four fewer than all other presidents put together.
Nevada has welcomed 16 chief executives in all. Only four presidents in the past century - Taft, Coolidge, Eisenhower and Carter - skirted the state while in office.
HOOVER'S EVENTFUL VISIT
Herbert Hoover made perhaps the most eventful trip to Nevada. On his way to vote back home in Palo Alto, Calif., Hoover paused in Elko on Nov. 7, 1932, to deliver the final radio address of his doomed re-election campaign.
A few hours later, the presidential train was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Eureka County, near what is now the ghost town of Palisade, when railroad personnel surprised two men who appeared to be trying to sabotage a bridge up ahead.
Varying accounts of the thwarted assassination attempt appeared in newspapers the next day.
Rocha said the Reno Evening Gazette quoted a railroad official who said the bridge had been rigged with 22 sticks of dynamite. Another official told the paper that nothing was found "but an old stick of powder."
A few days later, after voters succeeded where the would-be assassins had failed, Hoover and the first lady returned to Nevada to view work on the Hoover Dam and to deliver a short radio address from Boulder City.
It marked the first visit to Southern Nevada by a sitting president, albeit a lame-duck one.
Arguably the only president who had a worse time in Nevada was Warren Harding, and that's because he was dead.
The 29th president collapsed and died in San Francisco on Aug. 2, 1923. The train carrying his body stopped briefly in Sparks on its way back to Washington, D.C.
Rocha said there is some irony - and an element of purpose - to Obama's decision to hunker down in Henderson this week "after the whole flap that was made out of what he said about not going to Vegas."
"Las Vegas and Henderson are getting a tremendous amount of attention from him right now," he said.
Jen Psaki, traveling press secretary for the Obama campaign, said as much on Monday: "We know it's going to be close here. That's why he's here for three days."
This marks the 15th visit to Nevada for Obama and the longest ever by a president. At 11 and counting, Obama also holds the record for the most Southern Nevada stops.
And that's in one four-year term, Rocha said. "It's astronomical."
Couple that with all of the campaign trips by GOP hopeful Mitt Romney and both candidates' wives, running mates and other surrogates, and the message is clear: A fierce fight is under way for the Silver State and its now six electoral votes.
"There's nothing to compare this to. This is far and away the most attention Nevada has ever received," Rocha said.
And there's one more reason winning the Silver State suddenly seems like a good idea: With the exception of Gerald Ford in 1976, Nevada's electoral votes have gone to the winning candidate in every presidential election since 1912. Rocha said no other state can boast such a streak.
Political scientists don't always know quite what to make of Nevada, he said, "but we are the bellwether state now. Whether people like it or not, we matter."
Just ask the president.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.