Hours before final debate in Las Vegas, race remains close in Nevada

LAS VEGAS — For Stephanie Duenas, a 19-year-old college student from the battleground state of Nevada, the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is easy.

“Clinton’s not racist against Mexicans. Donald Trump is,” said Duenas, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Mexico. “Because of everything he’s said, it’s making people stereotype Latinos,” Duenas added as she waited for her clothing to dry at a laundromat in North Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon. “I think that’s really unfair.”

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In other parts of the state, voters like Dustin Wittwer said they were still struggling to make up their minds.

“I’m as Republican as you’ll ever find, but I’m more worried about ethics, honesty and morality,” said Wittwer, 30, an insurance salesman who lives in Bunkerville, a small town near the Arizona border in rural southeast Nevada. “I definitely don’t want to get behind a guy like Trump, because I think he’s not a good person.”

As the candidates prepare for their third and final presidential debate here on Wednesday night, the race remains close in Nevada, a swing state with a growing Hispanic population that voted twice for Barack Obama.

Trump was leading Clinton in statewide polls as recently as mid-September. The rivals were tied at 43 percent in Nevada in an Emerson College survey released on Oct. 4.

But that poll was conducted before a 2005 video emerged of Trump boasting about kissing and groping women. Since then, Clinton has jumped out to a four-point lead in Nevada.

Catherine Cortez Masto, a former Democratic state official who is locked in a tight Senate race with Republican Rep. Joe Heck, has also seen a bump in her poll numbers in recent weeks.

Nevada, which has six Electoral College votes, appears to be slipping out of Trump’s reach. In order to secure 270 Electoral College votes in November, Trump must win toss-up states like Nevada and North Carolina, in addition to traditional battleground states such as Florida and Ohio.

Some political experts said the race in Nevada could be closer than expected.

The state has a large number of “transitory” residents who move to Nevada in search of jobs in the agriculture and gaming industries, but who don’t stay long enough to put down roots and vote in state and federal elections, said Kevin Banda, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Many voters also live in vast, underpopulated — and right-leaning — regions of the state, which makes statewide polling more difficult and expensive to carry out, Banda said.

“It’s hard to figure out what the Nevada population looks like, because it’s so transitory,” he said.

Others argued that Clinton could do better than expected on Election Day, because current polls in the state might not reflect her level of support among millennials and minority voters.

Polls are typically conducted in English, making it hard for Hispanic voters who speak limited English to participate, said Michael Bowers, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “I think polls aren’t picking up those voters,” he said.

Still, given the state’s growing minority population and large unionized workforce — two groups that tend to lean Democratic — it’s surprising that Clinton does not have a larger lead, Bowers added. “Nevada is a unionized state, and there’s a big Hispanic population. This would suggest that Clinton would be pretty far ahead of Trump, and that’s not the case.”

Bowers said he believed the race remains close in Nevada, because Trump is still popular with many conservative voters who live outside of the state’s main population centers. “Once you get out of Las Vegas, it’s very rural, very white and very Republican,” Bowers said.

In a park in Bunkerville on Tuesday evening, several Republicans who were watching a football practice from the sidelines said they would likely back Trump.

“I’m leaning towards Trump,” said Ben Bryan, 33, an operations manager at a home automation company who lives in nearby Mesquite, a remote town near the Arizona state line.

Bryan said he was willing to look past Trump’s boasts about groping and kissing women.
“I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms where that’s the locker room talk,” Bryan said. “Is it right? No.”

Trump’s comments in the video may have highlighted his true character, said Colton, 24, who lives in Mesquite and asked not to give his last name. But with Trump, at least voters know what they’re getting, he added.

“He may be everything everyone says he is, but we’re seeing the same consistent person every time. Jackass or not,” he said. “With Hillary, you see something different every day.”

Some voters that Clinton is counting on in November agreed.

Mara Corrao, a 21-year-old law student at UNLV, who was waiting for a friend outside of a shopping mall in North Las Vegas, said she didn’t trust Clinton. Corrao said she plans to sit out the election, even though she feels pressure as a Mexican-American to vote for the Democratic nominee.

“Hillary is being two-faced. She’s not talking straight up like Donald Trump is,” Corrao said. In the end, she said, “politicians always make promises and talk a lot, but they don’t do much.”

Ahead of the third presidential debate on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, Dustin Wittwer, the insurance salesman from Bunkerville, said he was looking forward to the election being over.

Trump promised to let loose in the final weeks of the campaign and has stuck to that strategy, much to Wittwer’s chagrin. “That guy, all he had to do to beat Clinton was keep his mouth shut,” he said.