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US Political Parties Vie for Vote in Swing State of Nevada

Nevada is one of a handful of so-called swing states that could decide the U.S. presidential election. Nevada voted for the Republicans in 2000 and 2004, but Mike O'Sullivan reports from the town of Pahrump in rural Nevada, a shift toward Democrats may make a difference in this election.

Democrats have an advantage in Las Vegas, Nevada's biggest city, where unionized casino workers and Latino residents usually vote Democratic.

Republicans have the advantage in rural Nevada, but Democrats are closing the gap through an active program of voter registration. Democrats now outnumber Republicans in Washoe County in northern Nevada, home to the city of Reno, and Democrats claim a majority of voters throughout the state.

Nevada Republican Party chair Sue Lowden is expecting a close election, but says Republican John McCain can win by appealing to independents and moderate Democrats.

"It is going to be a nail-biter," said Sue Lowden. "It is going to be a tough fight through and through. It is going to be a squeaker. And we do believe that we will win as Republicans. This is traditionally a very conservative state, and we believe despite the new numbers that have recently shown the Democrats outnumbering the Republicans, despite that, we believe that John McCain has appeal across the aisle [among Democrats]."

The battle for Nevada may be decided in places like Pahrump, a sprawling desert town of 40,000. Located 100 kilometers northwest of Las Vegas, Pahrump has suffered from a souring economy and downturn in tourism.

Democrat Lelar Hillman is a volunteer for Barack Obama who is working to motivate voters.

People are paying attention. Some voters in Pahrump watched the recent candidate debate from a local bar.

The debates convinced Republican James Endersby, a retired firefighter, to vote for Democrat Obama.

"McCain, I thought, was too high-strung, moody, and I thought that I did not really think he would make a good president, so that is basically why I changed over," said James Endersby.

Voters say they are worried about the economy. Nevada has the highest home foreclosure rate in the country and its housing market is stagnant. Nevada Republican Party chair Sue Lowden says McCain is best able to tackle these problems.

She says that as a Westerner, the Arizona senator is familiar to voters here. And she says he sides with many Nevadans on many issues, for example, embracing the right to gun ownership.

The Republican official says McCain also appeals to disappointed Democrats who once supported Hillary Clinton for president.

"Frankly, he is attracting a lot of Democrats," she said. "There are a lot of Hillary Democrats out there who really want John McCain to win. So it is an unusual year. And it is going to be unpredictable.

Both parties are hoping to attract young voters, like 21-year old Matthew Jarzen, a history major at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He says students are engaged in the election.

"There is a significant portion of students who are active, who are aware of what is going on, mainly because of the media attention given to this particular election, the history that could be made from it," said Matthew Jarzen.

He notes the election will result in the nation's first black president if the Democrats win, and the first woman vice president if the Republicans win. Jarzen says most of his classmates support Obama, but he does not. He believes McCain would keep taxes low while Obama would raise them. He says McCain will keep government lean and efficient.

"I mean, in the short time I have been alive and paying attention to what is going on around me, I have seen government get more and more irresponsible as time goes on," he said. "The recent financial crisis is probably a good representative of that."

Both presidential candidates have spent time in Nevada, and officials of the campaigns say the volunteers and voters are excited.

Margery Kay Behrens is hairdresser in Parhump and Obama volunteer, and she supports the candidate's stands on issues from health care to education. She is telling her friends they need to vote this time.

"I believe that this election is probably the single most important election we have had in at least 200 years," said Margery Kay Behrens. "And if people do not get out and vote, first of all, they do not have a right to complain. And second of all, they will have me to deal with afterwards. Better get out and vote.

Voter registration efforts have led to controversy in Nevada and several other states, where a group that works for the Democrats is accused of falsifying some registration applications. But voter affiliation is just one factor in election. More than 200,000 Nevadans have no party ties, and many people here as in other states vote across party lines.

Nevada state polls show Obama with an average two-percent lead, but one poll shows the candidates tied, and the race may be tightening.

Nevada supported Democrat Bill Clinton for president in 1992 and 1996, and backed Republican George W. Bush in the two most recent elections. Campaign officials say the state could go to either party this year.