Why Vegas Is an Election Darling

Since becoming president, Barack Obama has visited Nevada at least 11 times, usually making more than one public appearance when he does. Mitt Romney has appeared here twice since assuring himself of the GOP nomination. Rest assured, they’ll be back, as will Rep. Paul Ryan, a visitor soon after his selection as Romney’s running mate. Meanwhile, both campaigns are pouring millions of dollars into Nevada. What did we do to deserve all of this love?

• Las Vegas is in a swing state. This is the reason we hear most. One might still scratch one’s head: Are we really that important a swing state, with our measly six electoral votes? But as we learned in 2000, six electoral votes can change history. And then there’s this historical tidbit: Since 1912, the only presidential election in which Nevada’s electoral votes went to the loser was in 1976. Plus, Las Vegas’ population has almost constantly grown, and the bulk of that growth has been among two target demographics—working-class whites, who tend to vote GOP, and Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic. Which brings us to …

• Las Vegas has Hispanics. According to a National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials analysis, Nevada’s Latino population grew 82 percent in the past decade, and a little less than one-third of Las Vegans are Latino. Thus, Nevada reflects the recent wave of immigration from Latin America and its potential political importance. Democrats figure to get the bulk of that vote, but Republicans want to make inroads. Democrats have done far better with nonwhites and women, and can make hay out of GOP immigration policies. But Republicans counter with an economic message and hope to win with a spiritual one: Hispanics are largely Catholic, and the church leadership is increasingly right-wing. Whether that filters down to local parishes, especially Hispanic parishes, seems doubtful, but the GOP can hope.

• Las Vegas has older residents. You may have noticed that the candidates also spend a lot of time worrying about Florida’s electoral votes. What do Florida and Nevada have in common? Retirees. To put it simply, the older you are, the likelier you are to vote. Or as I like to mention to my students, there’s a reason candidates get more excited about Social Security and Medicare than Pell Grants and student loans.

• Las Vegas has money. Obama may speak at a high school and Romney at a local business, but their presence is also a nod to Strip resort bosses and others with Big Money. (Sheldon Adelson isn’t the only one; remember that MGM Resorts International was perhaps Harry Reid’s best friend during his 2010 re-election, and even Steve Wynn has tried to avoid offending the Senate majority leader when attacking Obama.)Long before the Citizens United decision, money was the mother’s milk of politics—and there’s still a lot of it in Vegas.

• Las Vegans tend to be lazy. Sorry, but we are. Getting out the vote is not easy in a lot of places, but consider that Las Vegas is a suburb of Los Angeles, ranch-style and spread out. Getting out the vote can be much easier when your biggest gun comes to town. Obama and Romney may address the faithful, but what they say and the enthusiasm they create percolate downward, producing more interest, more activity and, they hope, more voters coming out to cast ballots for them.