On Wednesday night at a rally outside Las Vegas, Obama touted falling unemployment rates and rising home values. He warned that a Romney presidency would “turn the clock back 50 years for women and immigrants and gays.”
Earlier that afternoon in Reno, Romney zeroed in on struggling homeowners. He warned that a second term for Obama would mean “the values of your homes continue to bump along in the basement.”
Obama handily won Nevada in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote, but he’s lost the backing of many supporters over the lack of economic progress since the Great Recession. The state is far from a Democratic stronghold; George W. Bush won it in 2000 and 2004.
Like many of their friends, Jeff and Alicia Wagner voted for Obama in 2008, believing that he could put Nevada and the country back on track. Unemployment had reached 8 percent that November, which was its highest in two decades, and the state already was leading lists of “worst hit” states from the recession.
The Wagners’ optimism turned sour as the state’s unemployment rate continued to rise, peaking at 14.5 percent last year. An architect, Jeff Wagner said his best friend had lost his job and then his home. Their own home is worth 50 percent less than they paid for it, he said.
“Four years ago it was very clear that our peer group was in Obama’s camp,” said Alicia Wagner, 29, an interior designer. “We just saw a lot of friends take steps backwards.”
“We believed in the rhetoric of change,” Jeff Wagner, 33, said after voting for Romney in early polling. It was his first vote ever for a Republican president.
Ethan Souder, 32, his wife, Laura, and his 7-year-old daughter attended Romney’s Las Vegas rally last Tuesday. A member of the U.S. military, he’s being dispatched to the Middle East next month, his fourth overseas assignment.
Emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself, Souder criticized Obama for planned defense cuts and said the country needed a new leader like Romney. Part of the cuts stem from a deal agreed on by the president and bipartisan members of Congress that involved a package of spending reductions if a budget deficit-reduction program isn’t in place by the end of this year.“I’d like to help, but (military regulations) prevent me from volunteering for any political campaign,” he said.
Republicans also have cut into the Democrats’ registration lead in Nevada. As of April, they’d reduced Democrats’ advantage to 36,000 registered active voters. But with the help of the unions, who’ve paid some members to take time from their casino jobs to register voters, the Democrats made a strong final push. They now have 90,000 more active voters registered than Republicans do.
There are some signs of improvement in Nevada. Foreclosures have begun to drop and home values are rising.
Those seeds of hope are enough for Kyle Matthews to stick with Obama. The trade show coordinator said exhibitions were coming back as well, giving her optimism about the future. Watching football last week at Meatheads video poker bar, she said she worried about Romney’s lack of specifics on the loopholes he’d close to cut tax rates.
“When I talk to my friends, we at least think we’re on the right track,” she said. “And there’s a lot of trepidation for someone who’s not articulating a clear path.”
Still, the state continues to lead the nation in unemployment, at 11.8 percent. More than 70 percent of Nevada homeowners owe more money on their mortgages than their homes are worth, known as being “underwater,” according to RealtyTrac, which tracks foreclosures across the country.
Among the eye-catching billboards that advertise comedy shows and strip shows are others from lawyers promoting their expertise in short-selling underwater homes.
Those types of concerns are on the minds of dozens of volunteers at the Romney headquarters in Las Vegas, where they make hundreds of calls a day encouraging supporters to get out and vote.
“If you’re sick, you call a doctor,” said volunteer Alex Caveda, 30, who said he’s struggled to get full-time work since he graduated four years ago from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “You have a problem with the economy, you get someone who has worked and succeeded in the economy.”