Reading so many articles every day, I am fascinated how often Democrats or mainstream media talk about Nevada as if it is a lock for Obama barring some huge upset. No credible polling supports that thesis (PPP polls always over-represent Democrats) and plenty of polls reveal Romney is even leading. But no matter the evidence, media still write headlines like “Nevada isn’t a sure bet for Obama?” “Sure bet?” Is there a credible person out there arguing it IS a sure bet? Regardless, the LA Times wrote that headline in an in-depth look at the Silver State:
For decades, casinos were the golden key to prosperity, luring in tourists, cranking out jobs around the clock and flooding the state treasury with a perpetual stream of cash. Those days are over…The local economy is in shambles, done in by the double whammy of the national recession and the rise of Indian casinos in California. Unemployment is rampant. That presents a serious challenge to President Obama as he tries to repeat his 2008 victory in Nevada, a key swing state then and now.
Washoe County, which includes Reno and neighboring Sparks, is the swing region of Nevada, and as such will play an outsized role in the presidential campaign between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. To the south, Las Vegas and surrounding Clark County is a Democratic and labor union stronghold. The rural counties that make up most of the rest of the state are overwhelmingly Republican. That leaves Washoe, where Republicans have a slight registration edge and once had a near lock on elections. That is no longer the case, as Obama proved in 2008 by winning the county with 55% of the vote, matching his percentage statewide. Washoe County “kind of holds the balance of power now,” said Dave Damore, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Basically, if a Republican loses Washoe County, they lose the state.” That isn’t as true of a Democrat, as Bill Clinton demonstrated when he lost Washoe twice while winning the state by thumping opponents in the southern part. But a Republican blowout in Washoe would spell doom for any Democrat in a statewide race.
There have been no independent polls to show how the region is trending, but it seems fair to say that the economy has created a tough environment for any incumbent. By multiple measures, Nevada has been the hardest-hit state in the nation, with an unemployment rate that peaked at 13.7% in 2010 and remained the nation’s highest at 11.6% in May. Nevada’s home foreclosure rate fell to No. 2 in the nation (behind Arizona) in March after 62 months in the top spot.
Permanent change in Reno
The Las Vegas area suffered the most, but Reno was not far behind. And economists and local officials say much of the damage to Reno-area tourism is probably permanent. Unlike Las Vegas, with its international reputation, Reno has always been more of a regional attraction, drawing tourists from Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. With the advent of large, full-service Indian casinos in Northern California, many of those tourists have no reason to visit anymore. Bill Eadington, an economics professor and director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, said his studies showed that gambling revenues from tourists in Reno declined by two-thirds between 1990 and 2010.