The New New Nevada
When I say there are thousands of newcomers, I'm not kidding. Nevada has been the country's fastest growing state for 17 years running. This trend makes life easy for real-estate agents but miserable for campaign workers. According to Billy Vasiliadis, the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" ad guy (and a Democratic bigwig), you have to "re-win" the state every time. "It's not like, for example, the Cubans in Florida," he says. "There are no organized minority groups here, or seniors' groups, because the population is so transient. That makes it very hard to find and recruit voters."
Of Nevada's rapid growth last year, 79 percent came in Clark County. At first glance, this number would seem to aid Kerry's chances. Many of these arrivals were Latinos (coming for low-wage casino jobs) who can be expected to trend Democratic. (The massive Culinary Workers Union, which represents most casino workers, has fought hard to organize its members for Kerry.) But registering Latino voters has been tough. Casino employees work odd hours, so it's hard to find them at home, and Latinos whose households include illegal aliens tend to fear registration.
Meanwhile, the other big influx here has been that of retirees, who in Nevada trend conservative. They've retired here for lower taxes, and with no school-age children, they're loath to cough up money for government services that they could be spending at the slots.
Sneaky Ballot Initiatives
Democrats here have pushed a ballot initiative that raises Nevada's minimum wage. It's getting big support, particularly from casino workers. This should help Kerry. Why? Because the true goal of this initiative isn't to raise the minimum wage, but rather to motivate left-leaning voters to turn out on Election Day.
Nevada's senior senator, Democrat Harry Reid, nearly lost his job in his 1998 re-election bid. So, Reid geared up for the fight of his life this November, bringing in a slew of hired-gun strategists. When the big fight never really materialized—Reid's expected opponent dropped out, and the GOP replacement faltered—all this imported talent stuck around and turned its sights on the presidential race, boosting party registration, and devising get-out-the-vote tactics.
For all these potential Kerry assets, there's one big Bush advantage: Kerry can't play the economy card here. While other swing states have been crushed by job losses, Nevada has done just fine, thank you. The tourist industry has recovered from 9/11, and work is plentiful. As a result, one of Bush's main vulnerabilities is a strength here.
So, who'll win? Were I a betting man, I'd bet on Bush. Default goes to the GOP here, and Kerry will need massive Clark County turnout to score an upset. But real hope still exists for Kerry.
In a nod to Nevada tradition, I'd hoped to offer some odds for this election. But while there are online odds posted for Florida (Bush is favored as I write this), and Ohio (Kerry at the moment), I can find no propositions regarding Nevada. Even the handicappers, it seems, deem this race too close to call.