Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008 | midnight
It's a veritable who's who on this year's campaign trail, and all of them have visited the Las Vegas Valley within the last two weeks on behalf of John McCain or Barack Obama. And it doesn't end there — Obama is expected to return to Southern Nevada on Saturday.
Somewhere amidst the population boom, the foreclosure crisis, Yucca Mountain and an explosion of Democratic voter registrations, Nevada became a bona fide swing state. And while both campaigns are taking notice, local voters are basking in their newfound relevance.
Some residents, like Linda Turner, a community organizer for the Barack Obama campaign, can take a small share of the credit.
"I think it's great that we're a battleground state," Turner said after Biden's rally Friday at Henderson's Morrell Park. "It's because we've worked so hard and registered so many voters."
When more candidates and high-profile representatives visit Nevada, everyone wins, voters said, regardless of party affiliation.
"It's good for our state," Henderson resident and Republican Marc Grizzard said after Palin's visit Tuesday to Henderson. "We know who's running and what they stand for. Being in a swing state, you get to see more of the candidates and you really get to hear what they're about."
David Damore, an associate professor of political science at UNLV who specializes in campaigns and elections, said Democratic grassroots efforts in Nevada have played a major role in changing the state's political landscape.
"The Democrats, under (Democratic National Committee Chairman) Howard Dean put a lot of resources into these (western) states and while it didn't pay off two years ago, it seems to be paying off now," Damore said.
According to the Nevada secretary of state's office, Republican voters held a slim margin of almost 5,000 voters statewide in the 2004 presidential election. According to September voter registration numbers, that margin has gone heavily in favor of Democrats, who now hold a 94,000-voter advantage statewide.
And as the Democratic numbers have steadily risen, it has required Republicans to step up their efforts as well. But for them, Damore said, it's a more difficult task this year, as the Republican Party's struggles with President George W. Bush's image problems have further strengthened Democrats.
According to a September poll conducted by the American Research Group, 20 percent of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing, while 75 percent disapprove and 5 percent are undecided.
"Bush has done the Republicans no favors," Damore said. "It's very hard to find Republican voters who are excited right now."
Despite all of the changes in Democrats' favor, Damore said, Nevada is still by no means a given for Obama. The state is still historically Republican, having voted for a Democratic president just twice in the last 40 years — Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
That, Damore said, is why both campaigns are making such heavy investments in Nevada as Election Day draws near.
"This is one of the really truly unknown states," Damore said. "Obama is opening up a bit, but he's still within the margin of error. And while Democratic voter registration has been way up, there's no guarantee that all these people will come out to vote."
Jeremy Twitchell can be reached at 990-8928 or [email protected].