President Barack Obama’s fundraising trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday–shameful though it may have been, in the midst of a deadly foreign policy crisis–was a sign of how important Nevada remains to his re-election prospects.
Mitt Romney was in the state the day before, giving a foreign policy address to the National Guard in Reno, though keeping his pledge not to attack his opponent on the anniversary of 9/11.
Obama drew a smaller crowd at the Cashman Center this year than in 2008–just 8,000 attendees inside the 10,000-seat arena, as opposed to the 11,000 he drew last time at the outdoor Cashman Field.
The rest of the Democratic ticket in the state is also looking weaker than it has in recent years. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) may have survived Sharron Angle’s bid in 2010, but Rep. Shelley Berkley is struggling in her campaign against Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).
Both parties are bombarding the state’s weary television viewers with advertisements. The Democrats are targeting women in particular with commercials claiming that their opponents “opposed funding for Planned Parenthood,” leaving out the crucial word “federal,” creating the impression that Romney and the Republicans would wipe out the organization entirely. Other ads misrepresent Romney’s position on abortion entirely.
Social issues are all the Democrats have to run on in a state where unemployment is sky-high and the physical evidence of the bust are evident even on the Las Vegas Strip. Beyond the shiny Fashion Show complex and the glittering Trump International hotel lies the unfinished Echelon, which even Reid could not save. The many unfinished projects in the region have even inspired their own macabre art exhibitions.
A month ago, prior to both parties’ conventions, Romney was 2-3 points behind Obama in Nevada polls of likely voters, well within the margin of error. Democrats’ strength in the state is largely due to organized labor and a growing immigrant population; the GOP not only faces a registration disadvantage but the possible defection of Ron Paul supporters who are disenchanted with their marginalization within the Republican party.
In one of the more cynical moves of this election cycle, the Obama campaign is also targeting local casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson, turning him into the latest incarnation of the Koch Brothers, a scapegoat for Democratic angst.
Such a direct attack on a major local employer could send a negative signal to voters–and has also earned criticism from fellow Democrats who see signs of antisemitism in the attack.
The state and its six electoral votes are very much within reach for Romney, who returns for his own visit to Las Vegas on Friday, the day new state unemployment figures will be released.
It is a bitter irony to local residents, who were told several times by President Obama in 2009 that visiting Las Vegas was a bad idea, that they have enjoyed so many visits from both the president and his rival.
For now, their decision is too close to call.
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