State of the Race: Nevada

Nevada is a strange nut to fully understand.  A solid majority of voters come from Clark County (home to Las Vegas) which is solidly Democrat whereas the rest of the state is Republican.  The difference in each election is simply how each campaign “minds the gap” shrinking or expanding its margins across these two realities. There is a non-existent state GOP party (which is how you end up with Sharon Angle as your Senate candidate in 2010) that got overrun by Ron Paul zealots (and I mean zealots)  such that the Romney campaign and RNC joined forces to form a fully funded shadow party Team Nevada run by some of the refugees from the hollowed out state party.  At the same time Romney is still licking his wounds from telling the economic truth that the housing market needs to bottom before it can rebound. This was a bit of hard truth Nevadans didn’t (and still don’t) want to hear since much of their prosperity was based on the excesses of the housing bubble and they are still wading through its aftermath. Despite all this the race is still a dead-heat.  Obama’s lead in the polls is much like his lead elsewhere, predicated on a Democrat turnout unlikely to be seen in 2012. Team Obama also got a boost when a the powerful culinary union backed off its threat to sit out the election and will now send its troops to support Obama although at a 20% reduced level than 2008. But the reality is, like many of the Battleground States, while are open to changing the resident in the White House Nevada is still waiting for Mitt Romney to “make the sale” and win their vote:

If there’s anywhere President Obama should be deep in a hole, it’s here in Nevada, which has been flattened by the Great Recession like few other places. The state suffers the highest unemployment rate in the country and for many months led the nation in home foreclosures and personal bankruptcies as well.  But with just over six weeks left until the election, the president holds a small but steady lead in this Western battleground.

The economy

The economy and its lackluster performance is the overriding issue this election: Countless polls and other voter surveys have made that abundantly clear. But for many there is no straight line from disappointment on that front to a vote for Romney or, conversely, any assurance that those feeling better off are ready to support Obama…The economy remains a big concern in Nevada. At 12.1%, joblessness is 4 percentage points higher than the national rate. And, while there are incipient signs of a housing recovery, with foreclosures down and even some improvement in home values, experts say it may be decades before the state’s devastated real estate market and construction industry fully mend.

Party ID dictates views

Still, more than three dozen random interviews with residents across the Reno area — the swing portion of a swing state — found that some things mattered more than dollars and cents to people weighing their votes. Party loyalty was a big factor, a thumb on the scale for Obama as aggressive organizing efforts and a feeble GOP have given Democrats a voter-registration advantage of more than 60,000 statewide. (For perspective, there were about 1 million votes cast in the presidential race in Nevada in 2008.) Democrats…praised Obama for tackling the tough situation he inherited. Republicans said Obama had been as bad, or worse, than they anticipated back in 2008…[lamenting] the “horrendous” debt that has grown dramatically under the president. For those less partisan — the independent and persuadable voters who will probably decide the election — there was less inclination to blame the president for the slow recovery and little faith that any politician, Democrat or Republican, could make a huge difference right away. So other issues came up.

Opening for Romney

[One voter] worries about the effect the president’s healthcare overhaul will have on her husband’s small construction business, which is finally picking up after several tough years. She wants to hear what Romney has to say in the debates before deciding whether to vote for the president again. Others, too, said they might back the former Massachusetts governor if they warmed up to him some and were convinced he could do a better job than Obama, especially in boosting the economy. But it’s not a given, even for those who have had it rough over the last few years.

More than the economy

The simple “are you better off” question worked brilliantly when Ronald Reagan posed it in 1980 as a campaign capper in his debate against Jimmy Carter. But even if most here were quick to say yes or no, their answers only scratched at the deeper calculations many are making as they decide how — and even whether — to vote.

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