‘Oh, it’s gonna be Romney. The election’s on the sixth. Republicans always win when the election is on the sixth.” Vegas guys: Always superstitious about the numbers. Interestingly enough, this is true: November 6 elections produced Lincoln, Harrison, McKinley, Hoover, Eisenhower, and Reagan.
You have a lot of political discussions like this in Las Vegas, but there’s more than numerology to chew on this particular bone. Nevada might very well be the new Pennsylvania: the swing state that is, for Republicans, more of a tease state. In Nevada, President Obama currently leads Mitt Romney by a mere 2.8 percentage points in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, but most analysts have written the state off as a block of blue in the desert.
You’d think that Nevada, of all states, would be hoping for a change from all that Obama-style hope and change: The Obama economy has been positively savage for Nevada, which suffered foreclosure and unemployment rates clocking in at whatever is just past “Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here” on the economic-indicator charts. And there’s a built-in Romney-friendly demographic: Clark County, home to Las Vegas, is only about 6 percent Mormon, but the two counties to the immediate north are 48 percent and 22 percent Mormon, respectively. There are several other counties in which Mormons make up more than 10 percent of the population. Nationwide, 84 percent of Mormons say they intend to vote for Romney. If there’s a demographic dark horse for Romney out west, Nevada is probably it.
But there’s a lot more than that arguing his case: Even after a few months of improvement, Nevada still has the country’s highest unemployment rate — 12 percent — and one of the highest foreclosure rates. The all-important hotel-occupancy rate still has not returned to its 2008 level, which itself was significantly off from the 2007 record level of more than 90 percent. During the darkest days of the recession, some of the mid-level casino hotels were suffering occupancy rates in the 50–60 range: catastrophic. Prices at high-profile properties along the Strip were slashed as concessionary rates once used to attract the high rollers were extended to the low rollers and even to the no-rollers.
“Look at this place,” says a worker at a major Strip casino. “There’s nobody here. This is a Saturday night. In Vegas.” Indeed, while the place is not empty, it is rather lightly populated, with a lot of empty barstools, a lot of open tables at the restaurants, and, most worrisome to the local economy, a lot of free space at the gambling tables.