Obama, Romney Begin Final Swing State Tours

It's a tight race in Nevada, where the vaunted Democratic machine is being challenged by Republicans. The GOP hopes a higher turnout will counter a Democratic registration advantage. Unions — which have half Hispanic membership — and the Obama campaign are doggedly pursuing every voter. Meanwhile, the Romney campaign's Nevada team is doing the same. Early voting ends Friday.

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The presidential campaign resumes today at full tilt. President Obama and Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan are both making stops in Nevada. It's a state the president won big in 2008. This year, it's neck and neck. Democrats have an edge in voter registration and Nevada's economy is slowly turning around. But the state still has the nation's highest unemployment rate and one of its weakest housing markets.

NPR's Ted Robbins has the story from Las Vegas.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Hurricane Sandy may have halted campaigning in the East. It put new urgency into campaigning in Nevada, where polls give President Obama a small lead.

YVANNA CANCELA: That's right. It means that Nevada becomes even more important. The votes here will matter more if the plans that the campaign had to do the work in the East can't happen.

ROBBINS: Yvanna Cancela gives a pep talk to a hundred canvassing teams gathered upstairs at the Culinary Workers Union near downtown Las Vegas. The union wasn't sure it could spare these workers while it was in contract negotiations with the major Vegas casinos. But the two sides reached an agreement, so union campaign workers are out in the field, a field Democrats used to have to themselves. Not this year.

CANCELA: I know that we're still seeing Republican canvassers in our districts, right? They're out there. And sometimes they're going to the same doors that we are.

ROBBINS: Union workers Jose Javier Elguezabal and Christina Cruz Uribe walk door-to-door in a suburban Las Vegas neighborhood. In Nevada, you can get in a car and drive the desert highways for days, but 75 percent of the state's voters live in Clark County, which contains Las Vegas.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

ROBBINS: Jose Elguezabal took a leave from his job as a kitchen worker at Caesar's Palace. Like the overwhelming majority of Hispanics here, he's a Democrat. He became a U.S. citizen just a year ago. He likes President Obama's stand on immigration and the Democrats' backing for the union's new contract.

JOSE ELGUEZABAL: We support the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party supports my union and my family and I.

ROBBINS: Nevada has early voting at polling places for two weeks. That ends tomorrow. Jose Elguezabal has been coming to houses over and over until Democrats like Nelson Diaz vote. Jose and Christina pester Diaz as he wolfs down a granola bar on the way out of his house.

ELGUEZABAL: Because it's very important that you vote for us.

NELSON DIAZ: That's where I'm going.

ELGUEZABAL: OK.

CHRISTINA CRUZ URIBE: Look, he's got his keys in his hand.

ELGUEZABAL: OK. You don't vote, I come tomorrow.

DIAZ: I'm going there today.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBBINS: The Culinary Workers' effort is just part of the Democratic machine in Nevada. That machine includes a network, assembled by Senator Harry Reid and by the Obama campaign itself, which has been in place here for more than a year. The Romney campaign has had six months to build an organization of its own. Romney spokesman Mason Harrison.

MASON HARRISON: We're looking at doors. Doors are our big emphasis. And we've knocked on four times as many doors this year than in 2008.

ROBBINS: They're also making more phone calls.

LINDA HAWKINS: My name is Linda and I'm volunteering today for the Mitt Romney campaign...

ROBBINS: Linda Hawkins is at a phone bank at Team Nevada Headquarters, an office in a west Las Vegas strip mall. Her phone has an LCD screen with a script, and push buttons to record whether the person on the other end has pledged to vote for Romney.

HAWKINS: Its really important because every vote counts. It's a really close election.

ROBBINS: Other Romney supporters like Cair Ann Love have plenty of time to volunteer. She lost her Las Vegas cleaning business and her house in the recession. She doesn't blame President Obama for that. She just thinks Governor Romney will do a better job leading Nevada's recovery.

CAIR ANN LOVE: I don't see anything wrong with Obama. I just don't think he's cutting it as far as, you know, his job.

LISA VANDER: OK. Now, this visa is right up there...

ROBBINS: In the back, Lisa Vander organizes campaign material to go out with Republican canvassers.

VANDER: We've got 600 people coming this weekend and this is the operation department.

ROBBINS: Stacks of Wal-Mart bags filled with campaign material line shelves in the Team Nevada offices. Even Republicans admit they can't match the Democrats' organizing power in Nevada. But this year, for a change, they're trying.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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