Energized for the 2008 election

It’s amazing how far away each major political party is leaning from George W. Bush.

Republicans are hoping to return to a time when Bush was just a harmless son of a vice president; Democrats appear nostalgic for the thriving economy and low crime of the Clinton years. That, at least, is what the latest Nevada presidential poll would suggest.

“Law and Order” actor Fred Thompson, who certainly cuts a decent profile in reruns, leads the pack for the Republican caucus in Nevada.

Hillary Clinton, who has the world’s highest regarded ex-prez in her corner, is still way ahead in the Democratic caucus race.

An actor who was a politician versus a politician who is as famous as any actor. It could make for an exciting general election. More so, at least out West, than the political version of the Subway series — Clinton versus Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani.

Seems that match-up is more about New York than any contest of ideological purity.

Clinton is a lifelong Democrat who doesn’t fit in with the left. Giuliani is a Democrat-turned-Independent-turned Republican who can’t fit in with the right. And Bloomberg completes the trifecta as a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned Independent who may run. Talk about a centrist slate.

Voters, it would appear, have created a larger middle, moving as they did to the left in 2006. But even that middle may not be big enough for three New Yorkers who can’t seem to find their political center.

Thompson, who has not declared his candidacy, topped the Republican field with 25 percent, in a poll of likely GOP caucus voters provided to the Review-Journal last week.

Mitt Romney, who certainly looks presidential in televised debates despite an apparent national mistrust of Mormons, drew 20 percent — enough for a possible tie with Thompson, given the poll’s five-point margin of error.

America’s Mayor is next with 17, while surge supporter John McCain has tanked (8 percent).

Who said voters aren’t paying attention?

It may be summer, but the voters I run into are energized. Some are really hoping Thompson is the Reagan in the race.

He’s climbed from 13 percent to 25 since the May survey conducted for the Review-Jourrnal by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research. It would appear he’s picking off McCain voters. The Arizona senator fell from 19 to 8 in a month.

“I liked McCain in 2000, but now he’s so pro-war and pro-Bush,” said Republican Fred Rodgers, who wants Thompson to enter the race. “What I used to like about McCain is that he would speak his mind. Thompson seems presidential.”

Well, he played one this summer on HBO. Thompson was U.S. Grant in “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

Rodgers said he can’t find the Republican Party anymore and hopes Thompson, a former senator, is the right candidate.

Rodgers, 56, recently moved to Las Vegas from California, and thinks Republicans here are willing to make a statement. “I think if Thompson gets in, he could really shake things up,” Rodgers said. “I know so many Republicans who are done with Bush and are just looking for someone to clean up his mess.”

On the Democratic side, Clinton is still way in front of Obama (39 to 17 percent) even though both continue to climb. Clinton is up 2 points and Obama up 5 points from a similar May poll.

The only difference is that Democrats have come to the inconvenient truth that Al Gore isn’t going to run. He fell from 9 percent in May to 1 percent in the June poll.

Susan Gheriger, who considers herself a Reagan Democrat, hasn’t voted since 1998. She said she planned to re-register as a Democrat just because Clinton will be on the ballot.

“I was basically turned off by politics for so long,” Gheriger said. “I voted for Reagan and for Clinton and then just couldn’t find anyone I liked.”

Gheriger said she’s investigated a number of candidates in both parties, but wants to return to the politics she viewed fondly. “The world wasn’t so screwed up then,” said Gheriger, a 62-year-old retired teacher from the Chicago suburbs. “I saw Clinton as the guy who set things right after Bush One. Maybe Hillary can do the same with this Bush. It can’t get any worse.”

Rodgers said he doesn’t trust any of the candidates from New York. Gheriger said that won’t impact her decision.

“I don’t think of her as a New Yorker,” she said. “I think of her as the country’s.”

Rodgers said he generally distrusts New Yorkers and people inside the Beltway. That’s why he’s hoping Thompson enters the race. “He’s on TV, everyone knows the DA,” Rodgers said. “Besides, he’s really from Tennessee, which is a long way politically from Washington.”

Thompson actually lives in suburban D.C., was born in Alabama and plays the district attorney in New York City.

“That doesn’t count,” Rodgers said. “A pretend New Yorker is OK, as long as it’s a real Republican.”

Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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