Kerry sets Nevada hopes on Yucca discontent |

Kerry sets Nevada hopes on Yucca discontent

Associated Press

A high-level nuclear waste site 90 miles outside Las Vegas may be Sen. John Kerry’s main hope for beating President Bush in Nevada.

The economy may not be as potent an issue as elsewhere, not with 90,000 more jobs than when Bush took office. But a weak economy in other states reduces tourism, the key to Las Vegas’ health.

The state’s demographics could help Kerry, because the Democratic-leaning Hispanic population is booming. But the president’s team believes Bush can cut into Kerry’s margins among Hispanics, and make up for any lost ground in the growing GOP-leaning suburbs around Las Vegas.

Nevada is fighting the Bush administration over a decision to put a big nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain outside Las Vegas. Kerry has voted against it. Bush supports it. Kerry says Bush’s stance broke a 2000 campaign promise; Bush’s campaign says the president is following scientists’ best advice.

Despite the controversial nature of the site, polls suggest that it’s not the top issue for Nevada voters. Homeland security and the war on terror rank higher, and those are Bush’s political strengths. But Kerry’s team says his ratings in Nevada spike every time he visits the state and makes an issue of the dump. They plan to increase their criticism of Bush’s position, using it to argue more broadly that Bush’s word can’t be trusted.

Bush beat Democrat Al Gore in Nevada by 4 percentage points in 2000. Polls show the race this year is close, with Bush clinging to a slender lead in some surveys.

The state is part of the so-called cactus caucus, along with Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. Arizona is leaning Bush while Colorado (won by Bush in 2000) and New Mexico (won by Gore) are up for grabs.