Published Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 | 8:47 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 | 10:53 p.m.
Question on the Street
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Barack Obama conquered Nevada on his historic march to the presidency Tuesday, capitalizing on nearly two years of hard-fought campaigning in territory once considered out-of-bounds for Democrats seeking the White House.
The Democrat scored surprisingly strong numbers in early returns in Nevada, putting the state out of reach for his rival, Republican John McCain.
The win in Nevada came moments after the 47-year-old, first-term Illinois senator became the first African-American to be elected president in U.S. history.
Obama's promise for change in grim economic times, carried in scores of rallies in the state, clearly resonated with Nevadans new to politics.
"In years past, they weren't talking to me, they were talking to their own class of people," said Michelle Williams, 41, a disabled woman who voted for the first time at a precinct on Las Vegas' east side. She voted for Obama.
"He intends to close the gap between the classes," she said.
Officials had expected to tally a record 1.1 million votes, though more than half of those votes poured in before Tuesday. Roughly 600,000 Nevadans cast early or absentee ballots.
The large early vote was evidence of Obama's powerhouse ground organization. His campaign pushed their supporters to the polls early, banking a cache of votes McCain could not overcome. Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the early and absentee vote by 90,000.
The last Democrat to win a majority of votes in Nevada was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Bill Clinton carried Nevada twice but never crossed the 50 percent mark. George Bush twice won the state by narrow margins.
Nevadans have been closer to this presidential contest than ever before.
Democrats, hosting a watch party Tuesday night at the Rio, waved campaign signs, wiped tears from their cheeks and hugged each other as it became clear that Obama would win. Dozens of people held their hands over their mouths and shook their heads, not quite able to believe the moment was real.
The last time Nevada went blue "was the Clinton election and I was in office," said former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, who watched the returns from the Rio ballroom.
Obama's victory is good news for Nevada on several major fronts, including the battle over Yucca Mountain, Miller said.
"President-Elect Obama spent a lot of time campaigning in Nevada, and he's genuine when he says he wants to listen to people on all sides of the issue," Miller said. "We'll have an open channel."
As for McCain, Miller praised the Republican nominee for giving "the finest concession speech I've ever seen in my life."
The graciousness of the Arizona senator and his obvious sincerity "is very important to this country," Miller said. "If we're going to improve our economy, and improve our position in this world, we need that kind of cooperative spirit."