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Thanks for the memories, Nevada

“Neh-vaa-dah.”

In retrospect, it was perhaps one of the high points of our campaign in the Silver State, correcting George Stephanopoulos when he mispronounced the state’s name in a forum way back in March of last year.

Getting the pronunciation right didn’t help my campaign for the Democratic nomination for president make it all the way to the Nevada caucuses, but I like to think that I made the most of the short time we had in Nevada, a state where I have long had many friends, from Dick and Bonnie Bryan, to state Sen. John Lee, to high school friend Bill Thomas, to Rusty McAllister of the firefighters union, and many others. And I left with many more, from the voters who poked and prodded, to the county officials who understood we had a responsibility to their communities, to the reporters who wanted to know what this white-haired senator from Connecticut was doing out West — and did I understand water issues?

I want to thank Nevada for it all.

I recall a town hall meeting in Pahrump, where folks ventured out on a Friday night last April to hear what I’m told was the first presidential candidate to visit the town — a town that didn’t even have telephone service until the 1960s or a high school until 1974. It was a nice moment some weeks later to mention my visit to Pahrump on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

I think of that wonderful meeting with leaders in the Hispanic community at the Lindo Michoacan Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas. I’ve cared deeply about Latin American issues for decades, ever since I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. It was a special opportunity to speak Spanish and ask how a presidential candidate from Connecticut could help Nevada families fulfill their hopes and dreams.

I really enjoyed joining with the UNLV Democrats at their car wash in Henderson, complete with a special guest appearance by a student dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Who said young voters wouldn’t turn out?

Very early in the campaign, I had a conversation with a woman I sat next to on a flight from Las Vegas to Reno. It was a wonderful talk. But as the plane was landing in Reno, she told me something that has stayed with me ever since: “Senator, what you don’t understand is that America’s best days aren’t ahead of us — they’re behind us.”

What she said made me angry — not because I disagreed with it, and not because she believed it. Rather, what upset me most was that I knew this woman was not alone in her pessimism, that countless other Americans felt the same way about America’s future.

Restoring America’s optimism and confidence was why, in spite of the very long odds, I entered the presidential race. America faces strong challenges: the war in Iraq, a moral authority in tatters, and an economy on the brink of recession in large part because of a national housing crisis, which is also harming Nevada families. The remarkable and unprecedented number of people participating in this presidential election shows just how determined Americans are to bring change — and better days — to our country.

I remember a beautiful afternoon in a park with Carson and Douglas County Democrats, as a young woman, just back from the Peace Corps, spoke of the optimism she had for our future — that sense of possibility that infused her outlook on life and the difference each of us can make. That was the kind of optimism driving my campaign. I feel privileged to have been a part of the 2008 presidential election.

So thank you — and all of the new friends and gracious hosts who made our time in Nevada so rewarding. Whatever our differences, Nevadans reminded me that what Americans share with one another counts for so much more. On behalf of Jackie, the girls, and myself, we will never forget you.

Chris Dodd is Democratic U.S. senator from Connecticut.

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