A high-level nuclear waste site 145 kilometres outside Las Vegas may be John Kerry's main hope for beating U.S. President George W. Bush in Nevada.
The economy may not be as potent an issue as elsewhere, not with 90,000 more jobs than when Mr. Bush took office. But a weak economy in other states reduces tourism, the key to Las Vegas' health.
The state's demographics could help Mr. Kerry, because the Democratic-leaning Hispanic population is booming. But the president's team believes Mr. Bush can cut into Mr. Kerry's margins among Hispanics, and make up for any lost ground in the growing GOP-leaning suburbs around Las Vegas.
Nevada is fighting the Bush administration over a decision to put a big nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain outside Las Vegas. Mr. Kerry has voted against it. Mr. Bush supports it. Mr. Kerry says Mr. Bush's stance broke a 2000 campaign promise; Bush's campaign says the president is following scientists' best advice.
Despite the controversial nature of the site, polls suggest that it's not the top issue for Nevada voters. Homeland security and the war on terror rank higher, and those are Mr. Bush's political strengths. But Mr. Kerry's team says his ratings in Nevada spike every time he visits the state and makes an issue of the dump. They plan to increase their criticism of Mr. Bush's position, using it to argue more broadly that Mr. Bush's word can't be trusted.
Mr. Bush beat Democrat Al Gore in Nevada by 4 percentage points in 2000. Polls show the race this year is close, with Mr. Bush clinging to a slender lead in some surveys.
The state is part of the so-called cactus caucus, along with Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. Arizona is leaning Bush while Colorado (won by Bush in 2000) and New Mexico (won by Gore) are up for grabs.
BY THE NUMBERS:
5 -- Nevada's electoral votes.
1.1 million -- Record number of Nevadans registered to vote. More than 800,000 registered as Republicans or Democrats -- almost equally divided. Some 155,000 nonpartisan.
22 -- Percentage of Nevadans who are Hispanic.
17 -- Consecutive years, including this year, Nevada has led the nation in rate of population growth.
WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:
When the first returns come in, most of the numbers will reflect early voting that preceded the actual Election Day balloting. The percentage of the vote that opposing candidates get in the early voting historically has been close to the final results.
IN NEVADA FOUR YEARS AGO:
During his only visit to Nevada in 2000, Bush said any decision on the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain would be based on "sound science." That statement was slightly stronger than Al Gore's -- and some Democrats say it was just enough to swing voter sentiment Bush's way. He ended up with 49.5 percent of the vote to Gore's 46 percent -- and then approved the dump in early 2002.
AP Correspondent Brendan Riley contributed to this report from Carson City.