LAS VEGAS — The western state of Nevada, which has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, is a key battleground in this year's presidential election. Both candidates -- Democrat President Barack Obama and Republican former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney -- have made repeated stops in the state in the hopes of winning support on November 6.
President Obama hopes to carry Nevada. So does Mitt Romney. But experts say the state could swing either way.
Nevada has been hit hard by home foreclosures, as many homeowners began defaulting on their mortgages in the 2008 recession. The state has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country and the highest rate of unemployment, at nearly 12 percent.
Some voters, like 56-year-old Anthona McNeil, have lost their their homes and their jobs. She found part-time work at a casino resort and receives help from Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. McNeil stopped by the relief organization's office to pick up a check to help pay her rent. “I was not able to afford the mortgage and that started my descent,” she explained.
Like millions of people around the country, McNeil already has voted. Nevada opened its polls for early voting from October 20 through November 2. Nevadans say the economy is the big issue in this election. For many, health care also is a major concern.
Economy, top of list for voters
Senior citizen Linda Mendoza says she worries about a potential Romney victory. “I can't live if he gets into office because I won't be able to afford medical [care]. I'm over 65 [years of age]. I'm on Social Security," she stated. "And honestly, I don't know what's going to happen if he does get in.”
At at a campaign office in suburban Las Vegas, Democratic volunteers are trying to make sure that does not happen.
Romney supporters are also using the phones to get out their message.
At a recent Republican rally, Mitt Romney encouraged his supporters.
“We're seeing more and more enthusiasm, more and more support,” said Romney.
Governor Romney has faced the challenge of bringing together social conservatives and moderate Republicans who support business growth, says political scientist John Tuman at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Part of the challenge for the Romney campaign is that the state Republican Party has been somewhat divided,” he said.
Both campaigns have used extensive advertising to build support within their parties and to persuade undecided voters.
Oil industry worker Alan Chamberlain looks to Romney to boost Nevada's economy. "There's only one guy that's supporting the development of oil and gas, and that's Mitt Romney,” he asserted.
Romney's Nevada communications director, Mason Harrison, says organization is the key to this election. “It's really going to all depend on getting out the vote and making sure that we get our supporters to the polls,” he said.
Part-time worker Anthona McNeil has a message for both candidates. “Whoever gets in, I pray that they consider people like me,” she added.
Like seemingly all Nevada voters, McNeil says she hopes the winner of this year's presidential election can help turn around the economy.