(Amy Gardner/Washington Post/Photo via Instagram)

LAS VEGAS -- Mitt Romney wasn’t the big star at a campaign rally under a blazing Nevada sun at an office park a few miles off the Las Vegas strip.

Tim Pawlenty, a former rival for the Republican presidential nomination who has endorsed Romney and is with this week in Nevada, wasn’t really the star either.

No, the glamour emanated from Alana Lee, Miss Nevada 2011, who worked the packed suburban parking lot like a - well, like a candidate for president. Wearing a rhinestone tiara and satin sash, Lee said she has an interest in politics and is trying to meet as many candidates as she can. Her Miss America platform, she said, is “kind of breaking that apathy bug,” by convincing young people to become more involved in politics.

Lee will also lead the Pledge of Allegiance in advance of Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, which is hosted by CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference. It will take place at the Venetian casino on the Las Vegas strip, which is owned by Republican casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Lee, it turns out, is the daughter of a Nevada state senator, John Lee, who is running for Congress next year. The elder Lee is a Democrat, which probably explains why she told us that her appearance at the Romney event did not constitute an endorsement.

Romney ran through his usual campaign promises to the crowd of supporters who had gathered to help him christen his new Nevada headquarters. He promised to be back again and again in a state that is not only an early-voting state in the Republican nominating contest but is also expected to be a crucial swing state in the general election against President Obama.

Romney easily won the Nevada caucuses in 2008. Obama won the state in the general election against Sen. John McCain, but given one of the worst unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation, the state has soured on the president since then.

Most interesting of Romney’s remarks perhaps, was the way he introduced Pawlenty, whom he described as “the guy I thought would be my toughest competition.”

Funny, we never heard him say that when Pawlenty was still in the race.