But, carried in pockets and purses, there were small signs that it wasn’t all fake.
People on the campaign trail carried little items and objects for the candidates to touch or take home — teddy bears, rosaries, a skateboard painted with Rep. Ron Paul’s face.
In these things were clues to the Great Unspokens that all Nevada’s political stagecraft was supposed to either obscure or exploit. Mitt Romney’s sway over the state’s Mormon voters. Newt Gingrich’s unraveling organization. Rick Santorum’s family pain.
And, among the voters, a lingering hope that there might still be something personal and intimate left in this process of choosing a president of 300 million Americans.
“I want him to remember me,” said Bertha Brandau, 77, after she’d pressed her hand-knit slippers into the hands of a surprised Mitt Romney on Wednesday night in Las Vegas. “His feet are going to get cold, back East.”
At a Romney rally on Wednesday night, people clutched the things they’d been given on the way in. Everybody got a big Romney sign for the living-room window. An instruction sheet: “How to Caucus in Nevada.” A small American flag.
The hyper-organized Romney campaign had provided all of these props — and instructions on when to use them. “If you’ve got flags and signs, this would be the song to raise them,” said a singer who warmed up the crowd for Romney, leaving nothing to chance.
When Romney came out, he plowed through his standard stump speech, including the big applause line about how President Obama had said he’d be a one-term president if he couldn’t fix the economy. Romney said nothing specific that was tailored to Nevada’s Mormon population. In 2008, Mormons made up a quarter of Nevada’s caucus voters, and 95 percent voted for Romney, who is also Mormon.
But then, just as Romney was leaving the stage, he met Brandau — a fellow church member, too excited to play it cool.
She was a retired nurse (“If you ever need an enema, let me know,” she said to a reporter later, instead of “goodbye.”). She had guessed that Romney wore a size 11.5. On the slippers themselves, she had knitted a beehive — a symbol of the Mormon church and of Utah.
“I said, ‘These are your beehive slippers.’ Oh, he smiled and hugged me,” Brandau said. “And I kissed him on the side of his face.”
As Romney left the stage, then, he wore what he often wears — a blue shirt and blue suit jacket, with an American flag on the lapel. A uniform designed not to stand out. And, in his hands, he carried a pair of bright-colored slippers, adorned with black-and-yellow beehives.