Battleground Dispatches: Q&A with Nevada’s Mitch Fox

BY Mike Melia  October 31, 2012 at 7:18 PM EST

‘I Voted’ stickers are seen during the first day of early voting in Nevada at the East Las Vegas Community Center polling station Oct. 20. Early voting continues in the battleground state of Nevada until Nov. 2. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images.

On Tuesday, we brought you a report from Nevada by Mitch Fox of Vegas PBS on the fight for a House race there that is drawing national attention. But there is also a tight Senate contest and the state remains a key battleground for both presidential campaigns.

Fox will be joining the NewsHour for our Election Night Special, but we wanted to check in early. We talked about all these contests and the changing demographics in Nevada that make it one of the most competitive states in the country.

NEWSHOUR: Your piece focused on a congressional race, but in Nevada there is a key contest for the White House as well. What is the mood like there and how have the campaigns been targeting voters in your area?

FOX: There have been a mix of things. I don’t think the residents of Nevada have ever been barraged by the television advertisements like they have been in this election cycle. It is nearly every single program, every single day, in all parts of the day. It is relentless by both campaigns and by outside organizations, third party campaigns as well. We know we matter, but we didn’t know we mattered this much.

And of course the candidates have been here an unprecedented number of times. We expect visits this week by the president, it all depends what the situation is with Sandy, and someone told me there might be a surprise visit from Gov. Romney as well. This is every week, if you include the vice presidential candidates and the wives, there are multiple visits in any given week and we have never seen anything like it. Another example in my particular neighborhood, we see door to door activities from the campaigns unlike I can ever remember and I have lived here more than 30 years. It is a very, very competitive race and Nevadans should know that this is indeed a battleground state.

NEWSHOUR: What are some of the issues the campaigns are stressing to lure the Nevada voters to their side? Obviously jobs and economy are up there, but what is unique to you all?

FOX: This was ground zero for the housing crisis. We have the highest foreclosure rate in the country, highest unemployment rate in the country. Romney has definitely tried to point out what he perceives to be the ineptitude and incompetence of the Obama administration in terms of the economy. He and third party surrogates have definitely played up that aspect of the campaign and President Obama has focused on women’s issues, as he has in other states. There has not been a lot of Nevada centric types of issues played out in the campaign. For instance, Yucca Mountain is still hanging around and not a word about nuclear waste and water issues really haven’t come to the forefront. It is really national issues that you might see in other battleground states and those issues are getting a lot of attention in Nevada. Curiously though I thought the housing crisis would be played up by the campaign more than it has been, but it has not.

NEWSHOUR: The piece you did for us focused on a new congressional district and it was created because of the huge population boom you saw before the recession hit. How has that changed the voting demographics of the state overall?

FOX: It has been huge. That is another issue focused on the congressional candidates and the senate campaign between Dean Heller and Shelley Berkley, but probably not as much by the presidential candidates and that is immigration. We have anywhere between 24 to 25 percent Hispanic population in some congressional districts. It is less statewide, but it is a growing demographic and the Democrats are really hoping in some hotly contested races that will put them over the top. Many believe that is what gave Sen. Harry Reid the victory in 2010 against Sharron Angle that he was able to mobilize that constituency, get them registered and get them to the polls. That may have put him over the top and of course for Steve Horsford in congressional district 4 that is a big issue for them because that is a highly Latino district, as much as 28 percent there. Immigration has become a very important issue for this growing demographic in the state of Nevada.

NEWSHOUR: Finally, let’s talk about the Senate race: can you tell me more about who’s running and what’s at stake there?

FOX: This senate race could determine who is in leadership for the U.S. Senate, whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid remains senate majority leader. It pits congresswoman Shelley Berkley against the incumbent, Sen. Dean Heller who was appointed there by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. It has been extremely volatile, very nasty, very competitive. Polls usually reflect that Sen. Heller has enjoyed a few percentage point lead over Rep. Berkley in the polls. However, keep in mind early voting has favored the Democratic party and the Democratic campaigns so far and certainly voter registration state wide has favored Democratic candidates. It is too close to call. Sen. Heller has really done what some perceive as conservative votes while in the House and the Senate. And Rep. Berkley has used those votes against him. Heller has used Berkley’s ethics problems, she is under ethics investigation in the House, as a tool to besmirch her character and her campaign. How it plays out is anybody’s guess. It is very, very competitive.

NEWSHOUR: Mitch Fox, we will be hearing from you on election night. Thank you for talkign to us.

FOX: Thank you, Mike.

Fox’s story was the fourth in our series, Battleground Dispatches, a project funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in collaboration with public media partners around the country to bring you stories from areas critical to this year’s election.

Todd Zwillich reported on the Youngstown area of Ohio Friday night. He filed our first report in the series on how Medicare is front and center in tight House races in Florida and New York before the vice presidential debate. Anna Sale of WNYC did the second story on how female voters and candidates are drawing the spotlight in New Hampshire. Cathy Lewis from WHRO looked at concerns over sequestration in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia for the third piece. And on Friday we will have a story from Iowa on how immigration is a major issue there, plus much more online.