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Republicans Fight To Win Back Swing State Nevada

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We head now to Nevada, which is getting a lot of attention from both major party candidates in the final stretch of the election season. Democrats won the state in 2016 but narrowly, which makes it a prime target for Republicans. From member station KUNR in Reno, reporter Paul Boger has more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Four more years. Four more years.

PAUL BOGER, BYLINE: Last weekend, several thousand mostly maskless people crowded onto the small runway of the Minden-Tahoe Airport, about an hour south of Reno, to see President Trump at his first campaign stop in Nevada since the start of the pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Beautiful. What a crowd this one is.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

TRUMP: And you've got thousands and thousands of people outside that have taken buses here.

BOGER: Nevada's unemployment rate is the highest in the country. But many voters, like Steve Lopez (ph), give Trump credit for the economy before the pandemic

STEVE LOPEZ: I did not vote for Trump in the last election. But since then, he has proven himself to me, and I will - oh, I regret having not voted for him.

BOGER: Recent polls give former Vice President Joe Biden a narrow lead over Trump in Nevada. Trump came to the area around Reno because it's the one part of the state that's up for grabs. Republicans tend to win big in the rural counties while Democrats do well in Las Vegas and surrounding suburbs. Washoe County, where Reno is, was historically conservative but has trended towards Democrats in recent years. So what do Republicans need to do to win Nevada? Elliot Malin (ph) says they have to organize and knock on doors.

ELLIOT MALIN: People want to hear from you. They want to see. So that retail politics is very much a part of the fabric of Nevada politics.

BOGER: Malin is a Republican political consultant who's worked on statewide campaigns. He points to how Democrats have mobilized union members to get out the vote.

A growing issue for Republicans here is the state's new vote-by-mail law. Nevada is the only swing state where all active registered voters will be sent an absentee ballot. During his visit, Trump repeatedly attacked Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak over the law to cast doubt about the outcome in November.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: He was a political hack, and then he became governor. And this is the guy that we're entrusting with millions of ballots, unsolicited ballots.

BOGER: And Nevada Republicans like state party chair Michael McDonald are amplifying that language.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: You have to unite together to make sure we take back Nevada. This is not an election, ladies and gentlemen. We are at war. We're at war for democracy. This is what it's about.

BOGER: Despite the heated talk, many people here seem to have tuned out the election. At a farmer's market in Reno, it's hazy due to wildfire smoke from the Sierra. Many voters say their minds are already made up. Trump's response to civil and racial unrest has left some voters with a bad taste.

Larry Burnett (ph) is a retired broadcaster. He says the president's use of force on protesters around the country is worrisome.

LARRY BURNETT: What I'm concerned about is what we saw in Portland, where he brought in unmarked law enforcement people in unmarked vans. I'm afraid we may see that around the election, too, to scare people.

BOGER: There are still some undecided voters in the crowd. Autumn Spencer is a stay-at-home mom. She considers herself a conservative but isn't sure she can vote for Trump.

AUTUMN SPENCER: I feel very mixed because honestly, financially, we're still doing well with Trump. We are. Like, and I've always been very conservative. But I don't know. He's just kind of an awful human being.

BOGER: The question for Trump is whether voters like her will hold their noses and vote for him anyway.

For NPR News, I'm Paul Boger in Reno.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERYKAH BADU'S "ON AND ON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.