Election 2012 In Nev., there's no debate: It's the economy

LAS VEGAS - Look no further than the epicenter of the nation's housing worries - where "for sale" signs dot neighborhoods just off the glittering Las Vegas Strip - to see how Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are pitching themselves to voters beleaguered by the economy.

Perhaps more than any others, Nevada voters are witnessing the wide gulf between two competing economic visions - Obama's belief that government must step in when the economy fails, and Romney's tough-love adherence to market forces as the answer.

The candidate that more Nevada voters agree with - and trust - could end up with the edge in their state and other political battlegrounds hit hard by the economy, such as Florida and Michigan. That candidate also could be strongly positioned going into a November election dominated by the sluggish recovery from a recession the housing crisis caused.

Whether the government should intervene or let the market dictate the pace of recovery confounds many in Nevada, and there's little wonder why: The state leads the nation in unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures. And voters seem just as far apart on this solution as the candidates are.

"I couldn't imagine us being able to get out of this cycle if we didn't have that helping hand," said Nelson Araujo, an Obama supporter who runs a consumer credit counseling agency.

Fearing the worst is still ahead, Las Vegas real estate agent Phil Perrine seems to share Romney's position as he counters, "It's important that the government help us by not helping us."

Just three months before the election, polls show a close contest in Nevada and nationally. The state offers six Electoral College votes in a race in which 270 are required to win.

Beyond their economic pitches, Obama is working to boost turnout among a booming Hispanic voting bloc that leans Democratic. Romney sees opportunity in the state's vast rural areas and pockets of frustrated swing voters in the Democratic-leaning Las Vegas area. Both candidates made stops last month in swing-voting Reno, a nod to the state's large population of veterans.

Obama has the organizational advantage, with a still-active network that helped him carry Nevada four years ago. He's also getting help from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. And Democrats have an edge in voter registration.

However, there are warning signs for Obama. He and his allies have spent $9 million in the state largely to criticize Romney, yet polls show it's still close. Romney and Republican backers, in turn, have spent $12 million on ads mostly bashing Obama.

The race is likely to turn on the economy and, specifically, housing. Two-thirds of Las Vegas homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. After decades of job and housing growth, casino revenues fell in 2007, setting off a chain reaction of layoffs, foreclosures and bankruptcies in the state. Unemployment shot up to 14.9 percent in 2010, overtaking Michigan for the highest in the country. After declining gradually, joblessness stalled at 11.6 percent in June, still the nation's worst.


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