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Nevada Holds Promise for Romney, but Obama Has the Edge

Nevada Holds Promise for Romney, but Obama Has the Edge

By Erin McPike - August 19, 2012


Nevada has the highest unemployment rate -- by far -- of any state in the country: an eye-popping 12 percent, according to new data released Friday.

The Silver State has another dubious distinction: the country’s highest housing foreclosure rate. According to a June report on CNBC, one out of every 115 Nevada households was in foreclosure.

These numbers, combined with a population that is 5.6 percent Mormon, help explain why the Romney campaign believes it has a chance to eke out a narrow victory there in November. And yet, despite these staggering statistics, even Nevada-based Republicans admit that President Obama is favored to again win the state’s six electoral votes.

The RCP polling average in Nevada shows Obama leading Mitt Romney by five percentage points, 49.7 percent to 44.7 percent. In fact, the only poll this year that shows the Republican ahead was a PPP (D) survey taken in late April, just after Rick Santorum conceded the GOP primary to the presumptive nominee.

What gives? Why is the president enjoying a lead in a state with the country’s worst economic data (and especially considering that -- at least anecdotally -- he’s not particularly popular in Las Vegas)?

In general, both sides agree that Obama has made inroads out West, and that it’s in Romney’s interest to concentrate instead on the shifting Midwestern and Eastern seaboard electorates. But in Nevada, the president seems to be benefiting from a triple threat: remarks Romney made about foreclosures having to run their course, which the Obama campaign has used against him; demographics that are trending Democrats’ way; and a state GOP that has been in shambles for several years.

Just as the Romney-Ryan approach to Medicare reform could hurt him with seniors in Florida, the former Massachusetts governor’s foreclosure comments could spell trouble with hard-hit Nevadans.

In October, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board that he would broach the distressed housing market this way: "Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom. Allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up. Let it turn around and come back up. The Obama administration has slow-walked the foreclosure processes that have long existed, and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang."

A leading Democratic strategist in the state told RCP that the Obama campaign exploits that comment in its weekly messaging to voters. What’s more, nearly every time the president talks about the housing market and refers to his opponent, he piles on too.

And Obama tried to endear himself to state residents who have been hit hard by the downturn when he traveled to Reno in May. There, he laid out the newest iteration of his housing plan -- a multi-billion-dollar proposal to help struggling homeowners with good credit refinance at lower interest rates.

That visit was one of five that the president has made to Nevada this year. He also hit Las Vegas in January, talked energy in Boulder City in March, returned to Las Vegas when he was promoting college affordability in June and was in Reno again for a Veterans of Foreign Wars conference last month. Since his inauguration, Obama has spent 15 days in the state, spread over a dozen trips. In addition, Vice President Biden has been there seven times.

By contrast, voters don’t have a solid level of familiarity with Romney yet, according to Scott Bensing, a longtime Republican consultant in the state. But, he said, that should come after the conventions.

Of course, Romney isn’t as well known or as defined as his opponent in many states. But he has spent ample time in Nevada, having campaigned there several times in his previous run for president. In 2008, he demolished the competition in the caucuses, carrying roughly 52 percent of the vote. Likewise, he had a far bigger presence there than any other contender in this year’s Republican primary and even made it part of his firewall strategy, winning 51 percent of the vote.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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