50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 36. Nevada

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

36. Nevada

Capital: Carson City

Nickname: Silver State

Motto: All For Our Country

About the State

Before European settlers arrived in the area, Nevada was home to Native Americans from the Western Shoshone, Washoe and Paiute tribes, the last of which inhabited the land around Pyramid Lake, situated in the west of the state near the California border.  Mexico had never established control of Nevada and, in 1848, they ceded any claim on the region to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American war.  A year later, the provisional state of Deseret – which included almost all of Nevada and Utah, as well as parts of Arizona, New Mexico, California, Wyoming, Oregon and Idaho – was proposed by the Mormon Pioneers who had settled in Salt Lake City.  However, the Federal Government never formally recognised Deseret and Nevada became part of the Utah Territory until, in 1861, Congress created a separate Nevada Territory.  During the Civil War – and eight days prior to the President Lincoln’s re-election – Nevada became the 36th state of the Union (or 25th at the time, since 11 had seceded and formed the Confederacy) on October 31st, 1864.  Statehood was rushed through with the intention of ensuring Lincoln won a second term – although the President did not need the assistance from Nevada, as he ended up winning by 212-21 over George McClellan in the Electoral College.

In the second half of the 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries, miners were attracted to the state to search for silver, gold and copper that was discovered there.  Nevada has continued to be a place that people go in search of a quick fortune, as it is now known for its gaming and casinos, particularly in Las Vegas.  In 1931, in order to help the state as it was affected by the nationwide Great Depression, gambling was legalised – although it was seen as a short-term fix rather than a permanent one.  Initially, Reno and Lake Tahoe were the main locations people went to chance their luck but, from the 1960s onwards, Las Vegas began building luxury hotels and became the epicenter of gambling for the entire country, not just Nevada.  Alongside the casino industry – both gaming and entertainment in the form of shows and restaurants – the main economic sectors in the state are mining, where Nevada still accounts for nearly 80% of the total gold production in the United States and ranks 2nd in silver (behind Alaska); as well as cattle ranching.

Nevada’s population of just over 2.7 million residents ranks it 35th of the 50, while in area it is the 7th largest.  85% of the land in the state is owned by the Federal Government, who have taken advantage of its vast size and many unpopulated area to use it for the testing of nuclear weapons for more than a decade, starting in 1951.  Edwards Air Force Base is in southern Nevada and includes the remote detachment of Area 51 – which has been the subject of conspiracy theories surrounding what the purpose of the facility is.  While some believe it houses a recovered alien craft from a crash in Roswell, New Mexico, the airfield is most likely used for the testing of experimental military aircraft.  The Hoover Dam, which connects Nevada to Arizona and provides power and water storage for the area, was the largest public works project in the nation when it was undertaken in the 1930s – later to be usurped for that title by President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 6

2008 Result: Obama 55.1% McCain 42.7%

Latest Poll: Obama +3%

If there is any one single state that the two campaigns might want to focus on, it could well be Nevada.  Although its 6 Electoral College Votes may seem like a relatively small total to fight for, the state has been carried by the winning candidate in 24 of the last 25 Presidential campaigns – the one exception coming in 1976 when Gerald Ford won there in his defeat to Jimmy Carter.  If this year’s contest ends up being as close as it currently looks like it might be, the winner may well be determined by who emerges victorious in Nevada: should the President win the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Hampshire and Iowa; while Governor Romney claims Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida; each would be on 266 Electoral College Votes and the winner in Nevada would take the White House.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: There is one Senate election in Nevada this November, as Sen. Dean Heller (R), seeks a first full term, having been appointed in 2011 by Governor Brian Sandoval following Sen. John Ensign’s resignation.  Heller’s opponent will be Democrat Shelly Berkley, currently serving in the House of Representatives for Nevada’s 1st District, with the GOP candidate currently leading by five points in the polls.

After redistricting following the 2010 census, the number of seats Nevada has in the House of Representatives is increasing by 1 to 4.  The current delegation is made up of 1 Democrat and 2 Republicans, with the race in the 2nd District – currently held by the GOP – a toss-up and the new 4th district expected to be won by the Democrat, Steven Horsford.

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