The biggest fish in Nevada

Aug 16th, 2010 | By politicsnews | Category: Politics

As American political journalists go, there are few bigger fish for the size of their ponds than Jon Ralston.

The 51-year-old Las Vegas-based television host, newspaper columnist, blogger, email-list author and prolific Tweeter, has built a one-man media franchise in Nevada that has few parallels anywhere else in the country. And, as his home state’s Senate race between a recession-battered Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and GOP nominee Sharron Angle, the Tea Party favorite, has emerged as one of the year’s most interesting, his reporting and analysis are having an outsized influence on the national political debate. 

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Nationally, Ralston is probably best known as the first mainstream journalist to interview the press-shy Angle on his show, “Face to Face,” during a period when much of the national press was mocking her for giving interviews only to friendly conservative outlets.

Ralston was aggressive, forcing Angle to explain apparent contradictions between her pre- and post-primary positions on Social Security and a senator’s role in job creation. But when Angle smiled and said it was “always great to be here,” she seemed to mean it. Even when Ralston wisecracked about Angle’s mantra-like repetition of Harry Reid’s failures, she didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s no secret that Jon is a hard-hitting reporter, but Jon’s journalistic respect to in-depth questioning is matched also by his keenness in allowing the candidate to fully respond to his inquiries, and anyone afraid of going on Jon’s show has no business seeking elected office,” said Jerry Stacy, Angle’s spokesperson. “Sharron has been on Jon Ralston’s show, ‘Face to Face’, many times, and she enjoys the debate.”

Of course, she likely also enjoys the influence that Ralston has within Nevada, where he occasionally ends up affecting the story as he covers it.

“His influence is pervasive enough that, in a legislative session, you know how things will be headed in one direction and then something happens to send them in another direction? Ralston is often times the ‘something’ that happens,” said Billy Vassiliadis, the chief executive of R&R Partners, Nevada’s largest advertising, PR and government relations agency. “Something that he flashes [in his email newsletter] will be read by legislators, and if there is a vote scheduled on a bill, the committee chairman might pull it. His influence is such on the political process here that press secretaries for campaigns will rethink or at least make adjustments based on Ralston.”

Vassiliadis considers himself a friend of Ralston’s, though in professional life he said he spends a lot of time fighting with him. “It’s an odd relationship,” he said. “But there are very few people who I have found to be smarter, or to be more direct.”

The national political press finds Ralston a valuable resource for both this directness and his considerable speed.

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