Zack Clayton loves his mother, but today he is out to destroy her.
The 21-year-old is a precinct captain for Hillary Clinton. His mother, Linda, is a precinct captain for Barack Obama. They live in the same northwest valley home, walk the same neighborhoods and compete for the same voters.
At 11 this morning, they will square off at Arbor View High School in democracy’s version of a mud wrestling match.
It sounds like a funny situation, but there hasn’t been much laughter at the Clayton house lately.
At first, Zack and Linda would sit at opposite ends of the kitchen table, spread out their voter lists and make campaign calls together.
“Then we got where we just didn’t talk (to each other), and my office became my truck,” Linda said. “I didn’t want him to see my stuff.”
“This is the longest we haven’t talked in a while,” Zack said.
The situation came to a head last weekend.
“She got mad at me Sunday because we both wanted to go canvassing, and we wanted to do it on the same day,” Zack explained.
Since then, the two have been tense and guarded around each other. They will exchange pleasantries and small talk, but politics is off-limits.
And don’t even get them started about the teachers union’s lawsuit to block at-large precincts on the Strip.
When Linda brought it up a few days ago, Zack said he just went upstairs. “I knew that was going to be ugly.”
Neither of them could recall the last time they fought like this.
“When I was 17 you threw your keys at me,” Zack finally said to her.
“You were egging it on,” she replied.
A recent Review-Journal poll gives Clinton the edge on Obama, but at home Zack is hopelessly outnumbered. His brother, Ryan, 19, and sister, Brittany, 17, are both supporting their mom and her candidate.
So is Zack’s father, Barry.
“It’s been kind of weird, because I’m on my wife’s side,” Barry said. “But even though I’m an Obama supporter, I’m proud of my son for getting involved in the political process.
“I’ve been kind of the peacemaker. I was trying to patch things up between them,” he said.
Linda joked that Zack is the “black sheep of the family.”
Zack agreed. “It’s an Obama household. I just live there.”
So which captain will capture the most delegates today in precinct 3514?
“Me,” Linda said without hesitation.
Zack said Obama probably has the most supporters in the precinct. To counteract that, his plan is to try to eliminate Edwards from the running early and “win over their supporters.”
Based on the mock caucuses she has seen, Linda expects there to be yelling today.
“They have to yell, because if they let me talk they’ll lose,” Zack said with a smile.
You wouldn’t know it to talk to them, but for most of their lives, these two hard-core Democrats were actually Republicans.
Their allegiances began to shift at about the same time early last year, though Zack said they each came to the choice on their own.
“I was 2,000 miles away when I was becoming a Democrat,” he said.
Zack was in Iraq at the time. The Marine reservist spent seven months in the war zone with the 6th Motor Transport Battalion out of Nellis Air Force Base.
Mostly, the job involved driving a lieutenant around Anbar province.
“We didn’t see any ‘Saving Private Ryan’ stuff, but we were in some combat situations,” Zack said.
A few of the convoys he was in were hit by roadside bombs, and his armored Humvee took small arms fire about once a week, but he came home without a scratch.
Nonetheless, the experience changed him.
“I didn’t see any progress over there in the whole seven months,” he said.
That realization caused him to take a hard look at his political views. In the process, he discovered he wasn’t a Republican after all, though he is still registered as one.
He plans to remedy that just before the caucus begins.
The war also started Linda down the path to changing parties. She said her loyalty to the Republican Party was finally broken when Zack’s unit was deployed.
After that, she started taking a serious look at the Democratic candidates. In Obama she said she saw a fresh face, “not the same two names that have been in the White House for a million years.”
The kindergarten teacher started volunteering for Obama in March, when he opened his first campaign office here. Within a few weeks, she was a precinct captain.
Zack got home from Iraq in September. He decided to get involved with the Clinton campaign after her disappointing finish in Iowa, and just before the Culinary union, Nevada’s largest labor organization, chose to endorse Obama.
“I guess I took (it) for granted. I just thought she would win,” he said.
His mother encouraged him at first. Then he became a precinct captain.
“I kind of fell into this position,” Zack said.
“I think that has been the biggest part of the strain. He knew since March I was working on this,” Linda said. “I think at that point that hurt me. It felt to me a little like a slap in the face.”
Now both are eager for the competition to be over so they can put it behind them.
It won’t be easy.
Zack said regardless of who ultimately wins the nomination, he and his mom would “probably end up on the same team.”
But Linda isn’t so sure. She said she doesn’t know if she can ever support Hillary.
“She’s taken too much special-interest money, and I think she is using Bill too much. I don’t see her standing on her own two feet.”
Zack started to fire back, then stopped himself. Whatever he had to say could wait until today.
Of course, the Clayton family feud might not end with the caucus.
Zack and Linda are each in line to become a delegate to the Clark County Democratic Convention, and both have said they would love to represent their candidates at the national convention.
“I wish there was some way my mom could win and my candidate could get the nomination. I really wish there was a way we could both win.
“Not all of those things can happen,” he said.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 383-0350.