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Nev. No Longer Reliably Red As Demographics Change


Here we are on election morning, and in the swing state of Nevada, most of the work is already done. Most of the ballots were cast in early voting. Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston has been keeping close track of the tallies. He's on the line.

Welcome to the program, sir.


INSKEEP: So, in recent days, what have you been seeing?

RALSTON: Well, we have two weeks of early voting here in Nevada, and it's gotten bigger and bigger every year. We have record turnout in early voting - 700,000 people voted early. To give people some perspective on that, my guess is about a million people total will vote. So we have probably about 70 percent of the vote in already.

INSKEEP: Seventy percent of the vote in. And I guess it hasn't been counted, but people still look at it and try to figure out what they can. What can you learn?

RALSTON: Well, you can see that the Democratic machine here, which has been fairly formidable - in 2008, Barack Obama won the state by 12 points. In 2010, it managed to save a very damaged Harry Reid from a very significant challenge. That it's working - again, it's obviously not 2008. Democrats are not running out of their homes to vote for Barack Obama. It's been a little bit more of a slog for the machine.

But they turned out more Democrats, actually, than they did in 2008 down here in Clark County, which is where Las Vegas is, which has 70 percent of the population. The Republicans have done better than 2008, Steve, but that's such a low bar to judge from, that I'm not even sure it's significant.

INSKEEP: You know, you mentioned Clark County, where Las Vegas is. This seems to be the pattern in a lot of swing states. You have urban counties with a lot of Democratic votes, and people will look at the urban counties versus the rural counties, that are presumed to be more Republican. Is that right?

RALSTON: That's correct. And Nevada's one of the most urban states in the country. We're always in the top two or three. There are essentially three areas of Nevada. There's Reno. There's Las Vegas, and then there's the vast swath of rural Nevada between those two urban areas in the north and the south.

As I said, the Las Vegas area has about 70 percent of the vote. Reno has about 15 to 18 percent, and then the rest is rural Nevada. It'll depend on turnout. Rural Nevada will vote overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in the presidential race. Whether it'll win by 35,000 votes or 40,000 votes, it'll be a significant number.

And, obviously, Barack Obama will win very Democratic Clark County by a sizable margin. So Washoe County, the smaller urban area, becomes the swing area of the state. It's very close in registration. Early voting is remarkably close, Steve. There were about 100,000 ballots cast, and the Republicans have just a few-hundred-vote lead up there, if you combine that.

So that is going to tell the tale. If Washoe - if Mitt Romney can't win Washoe County by a few points and hold down the margin in Clark County, he can't win the state.

INSKEEP: Washoe County - that's Reno, Nevada?

RALSTON: That's correct.

INSKEEP: OK. So if you had to estimate right now, who's got the advantage as we head into the final votes being cast on Election Day?

RALSTON: I think both campaigns would acknowledge, and my analysis of the early vote indicates, that Barack Obama has the edge. The Democrats have about a 70,000-ballot edge down here in the Las Vegas area, in Clark County. That is very significant. They have a 7 percent registration edge in the state.

So unless there is something going on either today with the unusually large turnout by Republicans, or independents show that they're absolutely going by a huge landslide for Mitt Romney, I think it's very difficult for him - not impossible, Steve, but I think it's difficult.

INSKEEP: Well, Jon Ralston, talk to us just a little bit about Nevada. This used to be a reliably red state, and now we have a situation where the Democratic candidate might not do so well as last time, and yet he's still favored to win.

RALSTON: Yeah, it's very unusual, Steve. We were very red, as you mentioned. The only presidential nominee from the Democratic Party who won the state since Lyndon Johnson, before Barack Obama, that was Bill Clinton in '92 and '96. And the only reason that Clinton won the state in '92 and '96 was because Ross Perot siphoned off enough votes to give Clinton the state.

But the demographics have changed. It's become a very Democratic state. And then a few cycles ago, Harry Reid, after having a near-death experience in 1998, decided to try to revamp the state party, brought in some people. They registered a lot of voters. And so that structurally what's occurred.

You also have the amazing impact of the Hispanic vote here. Twenty-seven percent of the state is Hispanic, and the Hispanic electorate keeps getting bigger and bigger. It was up to 15 percent of the total electorate, maybe 16 percent in 2008 and in 2010. We'll see what it is this cycle. But the Hispanic population here is voting overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, based on recent polling.

It's going to be very difficult for Republicans to win here statewide unless they find a way to talk to the Hispanic population.


RALSTON: It's actually a microcosm of the country.

INSKEEP: OK. Jon Ralston hosts the TV program "Ralston Reports." Thanks for your insights. Appreciate it.

RALSTON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue checking on Nevada. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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