Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Nevada voters passionate enough to cast ballots on the first day of voting said in overwhelming numbers Saturday that they favored Democrat Barack Obama, according to interviews at voting sites manned by reporters for the Las Vegas Sun.
The Sun interviewed 72 voters at five early voting sites across Southern Nevada and one in Carson City. Sixty one of the 72 said they had voted for Obama.
The Illinois senator’s supporters cited the economy as their No. 1 issue, while also expressing fatigue with the Bush administration.
Voters who said they cast ballots for Republican Sen. John McCain cited taxes and suspicions about Obama raised by the McCain campaign in recent weeks.
The McCain campaign and the Republican Party have sought to link Obama to William Ayers, a 1960s-era radical and co-founder of an anti-Vietnam war group, The Weather Underground, which claimed responsibility for nonfatal bombings of the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.
For some, the association resonated.
“I don’t think Obama can be trusted,” said Marianne Akmyev, a 39-year-old doctor and registered Democrat, who voted for McCain at Galleria Mall in Henderson. “There are too many weird things that don’t make sense.”
At a Vons supermarket in Summerlin, 77-year-old retiree Natalie Harris was more direct. “Obama scares the (expletive) out of me,” said Harris, a registered Democrat who voted for McCain. “Look at his past, his associations. His pastor. Bill Ayers. The list goes on and on and on. I don’t trust him. And the ACORN thing stinks to high heaven.”
Interviews with voters who cast ballots for Obama, however, indicated that Obama’s attempts to tie McCain to President Bush were succeeding. Many voters also said they saw Obama — and Democrats in general — as better attuned to low-income and middle-class concerns.
“President Bush has had two terms. It’s enough,” said Henry Rodriguez, a 68-year-old electrician, who voted for Obama at the Lucky grocery store near the corner of Eastern and Bonanza.
The Obama campaign’s drive to maximize early voting was also on display. More than 100 people attended a rally organized by the Clark County Democratic Black Caucus at the Dr. William Pearson Community Center in North Las Vegas. Before voting, families took photos in front of Obama signs.
Black leaders, including state Senate Minority Leader Steven Horsford, had a message for Obama’s supporters: You’re not done once you vote. Talk to everyone you know.
Election workers said they arrived to long lines in the morning. At Vons in Summerlin, for instance, a line had formed an hour before the polls opened at 8 a.m.
“It’s never like this,” said Monica Conteduca of the Clark County Election Department. “Usually we’re looking for voters.”
At the Carson City Courthouse, polls opened at 9:30 a.m., a half hour early, and soon hundreds had lined up to cast ballots, the line snaking through a long corridor.
According to Clark County Registrar Larry Lomax, Saturday’s turnout far surpassed that of the first day of early voting in 2004, when a record 14,204 people voted. As of Saturday evening, with a few hours remaining until polls closed, 23,664 people had voted. Lomax said he expected turnout to reach 25,000 by day’s end.
For some, the presidential election was personal.
“It’s the most important vote in my life,” said Steve Weckel, a 74-year-old retired marketing manager and registered Democrat who voted for Obama. “It’s an opportunity to heal racial issues in the United States.”
Others voted on pocketbook issues. “I get taxed like hell, and I feel I have a better chance getting my taxes lowered under McCain,” said Henry Gutierrez, a 60-year-old Clark County child protective services worker.
Steven Kelley, a 52-year-old elementary school teacher and registered Republican, said he voted for McCain because of Obama’s “overall philosophy of government, taxes, big spending and income redistribution.”
Still, Obama voter Sharon Robinson, who’s 47 and is a customer service representative at MGM Grand, said the government needs to take a more active role in people’s lives by providing health care. “I’m one of those people who work for a major corporation and doesn’t get health care,” she said.
If the signs, however preliminary, didn’t favor McCain, another Republican fared slightly better: Rep. Jon Porter, who is facing a tough challenge from state Sen. Dina Titus in the 3rd Congressional District.
Evenly split between the parties two years ago, the district now has nearly 31,000 more Democrats. Of the 72 voters interviewed by the Sun, 25 voted in that congressional contest. Seventeen said they voted for Titus. Eight said they voted for Porter, and three of those said they were Democrats who voted for Obama.
Most said they had been eager to cast their ballot for months.
“I’m fed up with the last eight years,” said Ron Stillwell, a 65-year-old contractor and registered Democrat. “Obama has an uncanny ability to pull people together. He knows he can’t do it by himself. McCain thinks he can, which is just ridiculous.”
Plus, he said, now “I can finally pay less attention to all the propaganda.”
Sun reporters Alexandra Berzon, David McGrath Schwartz, Megan McCloskey and Sam Skolnik contributed to this report.