Candidates Mine For Rural Votes In Nevada

Nevada is one of several states still up for grabs. Republican voters in the state's rural counties are enthusiastic about Republican presidential nominee John McCain. But Democrat-run voter registration drives are gaining ground in urban areas like Las Vegas. Neither campaign is taking the state for granted.

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Nevada is one of a handful of states still up for grabs. President Bush won Nevada with overwhelming support from rural voters. And McCain will have to do the same if he wants the state's five electoral votes. As NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, Obama supporters are trying to make inroads in Nevada's rural Republican stronghold.

INA JAFFE: You can drive a long way in rural Nevada without seeing anything but brown mountains studded with sage brush. The small towns are few and far between. But on Sunday, the town of Wellington was crowded. It was the Rotary Club's annual fun day, a festival with crafts and competitions for dogs, horses, and antique cars. The Republican Party of Lyon County had a booth there.

HOWARD HIRSCH: We ran out of buttons about 15 minutes after we opened up this morning.

JAFFE: McCain-Palin buttons.

HIRSCH: Yes. Yes.

JAFFE: Howard Hirsch is the GOP chairman in this northern Nevada county. There is a lot of enthusiasm for McCain here, he said. That's despite the fact that the Arizona senator finished third in the January caucuses behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

HIRSCH: There were a number of people who earlier said, over my dead body, but they've considered the alternative and you can draw your own conclusions from that.

JAFFE: It's not just the alternative of a President Obama that's intensified support for McCain here. Julie Costa(ph) was wearing a Sarah Palin button that said, "Read my lipstick."

JULIE COSTA: Palin just really energized me. She just really gave me the boost that we needed with the excitement. And of course, she's just such a class act.

JAFFE: Rural Republicans put President Bush over the top in Nevada, backing him by a margin of two to one. But Republicans have lost their edge in statewide voter registration, partly due to recent Democratic gains in Las Vegas. Howard Hirsch says that if McCain is going to win Nevada, he'll have to do even better in the rural counties than President Bush did.

HIRSCH: Because we have to make up in rural Nevada, and specifically in Lyon county, the margin that we are going to lose by down in Las Vegas.

JAFFE: In presidential elections, Democrats have rarely bothered to compete here. But the Obama campaign has made a point of it. He's been campaigning in rural counties since the caucuses, and he now has four offices open, including one in Lyon County in the town of Fernley. That's where Obama volunteer Nancy Satterford(ph) canvassed recently on Desert Springs lane.

NANCY SATTERFORD: I've been to all kinds of neighborhoods. I've been in little mobile home parks. And this is one of the nicer neighborhoods in town.

JAFFE: This is the first time that 60-year-old Satterford has volunteered for a campaign. She skips the houses that have McCain signs in front. She knocks on Jeffery Felix's(ph) door.

JEFFERY FELIX: Oh, we're voting for him, so don't worry.

SATTERFORD: Oh, cool.

FELIX: OK?

SATTERFORD: That's great.

JAFFE: Several of the houses here have darkened windows and front yards filled with sand, trash, and weeds. The foreclosure crisis has brought Fernley's booming growth to a screeching halt. Nancy Satterford thinks it's made people give Obama a second look. Case in point is Laura Williams(ph), who invites us into her kitchen. She's still agonizing.

LAURA WILLIAMS: I like McCain. I think he's genuine. I think he would try his best. But I think Obama has good - he's not tainted, so to speak, you know? I think he can make huge changes. But I don't know if he'll follow through once he gets in there. That's what scares me.

JAFFE: After a 20-minute chat, Williams tell Satterford that she's won another convert.

WILLIAMS: I basically believe in a higher power. And I just said, I need a sign. I need to know who to vote for. Here you are.

JAFFE: Satterford didn't feel comfortable with the role of miracle worker, but Barack Obama won't need a miracle to win Nevada. He'll just need to cut into John McCain's margin in the rural counties. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Reno.

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