LAS VEGAS— President Obama has no business asking Oscar Cuevas for his vote.
Since Obama assumed office, Cuevas, 23, lost his job as a cell-phone store manager when the shop went out of business. He spent the next two years unemployed. His parents lost their home and moved in with him. So did four of his siblings, one with a newborn child. Cuevas hasn’t paid his own mortgage in months, and the bank has come knocking. He now has a job helping to register Latino voters, but he still can’t make his house payment. Too many other bills have piled up.
Cuevas voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but he is undecided this time. “He’s not doing a bang-up job,” Cuevas said, flashing an infectious smile.
For 100 years, has been the quintessential presidential bellwether, siding with the victor in 24 of the past 25 campaigns (it missed only Jimmy Carter), more than any other state. And this year, both sides are pouring millions of dollars into ground operations and television advertising to frame the debate.
If the 2012 election is about the economy, then Cuevas—and Nevada—should be a lost cause for Obama. The state has topped the charts in unemployment (at 12 percent), foreclosures, and faded dreams. In some Las Vegas neighborhoods, more than eight in 10 homes are underwater, worth less than they were bought for. In the “best-off” ZIP code in the Las Vegas region, 42 percent of homes are underwater, according to Zillow, the real-estate tracking firm. The only construction work here these days seems to be boarding up abandoned houses.
And yet the president is not just competitive in Nevada, he is leading Republican Mitt Romney, according to most polls. It is not the 12-point margin he won by in 2008, but a slim lead is still a lead.
Vice President Joe Biden’s July speech here to the National Council of La Raza crystallized the Obama campaign’s strategy aimed at Latinos. Speaking in the foreclosure capital of America, it was 10 minutes before Biden mentioned the economy. Instead, he warned the crowd of nearly 2,000 Latino activists of the dangers posed by a President Romney.
“Close your eyes,” said Biden, channeling his inner revivalist.
In the span of a minute, he asked them 10 times to “imagine” the horrors of a Romney presidency. Biden spoke of “self-deportation,” ’s immigration law, and a veto of the Dream Act. Civil rights, voting rights, college scholarships, health care coverage for Hispanics—all are on the line. “Close your eyes and imagine,” he repeated.