Voters head to polls in battleground Nevada
Associated Press Writer
LAS VEGAS ” Nearly two years of political wrangling, rhetoric and spending in Nevada neared an end Tuesday as voters stepped up for their final chance to weigh in on a presidential election like no other in the state’s history.
Most polls opened at 7 a.m., with election officials expecting a record 1.1 million Nevadans to vote in the historic contest pitting Democrat Barack Obama, the first black major-party nominee in U.S. history, against Republican John McCain, the oldest.
“We’re happy. We’ve had heavy turnout, but no major problems,” Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller said. “It helped having 50 percent of the voters cast their ballots early.”
Clark County Registrar of Voters Larry Lomax estimated that about 75,000 voters cast ballots by 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Las Vegas area.
“There’s no question turnout is heavier than in previous years,” Lomax said.
Voting was delayed 30 minutes at one polling station at an elementary school in northeast Las Vegas due to a ballot card activation machine malfunction, Lomax said. Poll supervisors reported a few voters left for a time, “but they all came back,” he added.
Most early reports were of light lines and few hiccups at the polls. The army of polls watchers trained by the campaigns to look for problems had little to do.
Sejal Binnings, an Obama poll watcher, sat with her nose in a novel as a steady trickle of voters passed through the polls at Green Valley Presbyterian Church in Henderson.
“I finished my first book,” she said. “Luckily, there’s a library next door, so I picked up a Nora Roberts.”
Across town, in a historically black Las Vegas neighborhood, Harriet Singleton urged those with her in a 10-minute line to vote for Obama.
“We’re tired of the same thing. We don’t want Pain McCain,” the 28-year-old self-described entrepreneur said.
Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, drew about 3,000 people to an Oct. 28 rally at a park next to the library where Singleton voted. Singleton on Tuesday credited the Obama campaign with “bringing the community together for the better.”
For the first time, the state’s early caucuses drew White House hopefuls to the Silver State a full 22 months before Election Day. As a swing state, the political drama played out until the last day in high school gyms and Mexican restaurants in Las Vegas, suburban living rooms in Sparks and at city parks in Elko.
McCain campaigned Monday in Henderson, while his running mate Sarah Palin made two northern Nevada stops. Michelle Obama appeared Monday at a rally in a black neighborhood in North Las Vegas. Barack Obama made a stop Saturday in Henderson.
The activity was particularly intense among Democrats, who hoped to use the election to reverse years of Republican dominance in the state. Nevada has gone Republican the past two presidential elections, and a Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won a majority since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Signs of the battle were evident at an elementary school polling place in rural Nye County where voters were greeted by prominent McCain-Palin signs in the parking lot and a man and woman sitting at a table with an Obama poster asking if they needed help voting.
Emmanuel Salazar, 69, a retired aircraft plant worker and registered Republican, said he voted his party ticket.
“I think you have to vote, especially now,” Salazar said, adding that he was going to help get friends to the polls in Pahrump.
“Some guys, they didn’t want to vote, but I’m going to try to get them down here.”
Before polls opened Tuesday, more than 600,000 Nevadans already made their choice. The record-breaking number appeared to favor Democrats. Statistics released by Clark and Washoe county officials showed 90,000 more Democrats cast early and absentee ballots than Republicans. Rural counties do not report the party affiliation of early voters.
In Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican incumbent Jon Porter and longtime Democratic State Sen. Dina Titus were deadlocked in a race to represent the Las Vegas suburbs.
In northern and rural Nevada, Republican Rep. Dean Heller hoped to hold on to his seat despite a strong challenge from former Democratic Party Chairwoman Jill Derby.
In the Nevada Legislature, two Republican lawmakers ” Sens. Joe Heck, of Henderson, and Bob Beers, of Las Vegas ” were trying to fight off well-funded challenges from Democrats Shirley Breeden and Allison Copening, respectively. Victories by either could shift narrow control of the state Senate to Democrats.
Associated Press staff writer Ken Ritter contributed to this report.