Nevada's 'Biggest Little City' in Heart of Electoral Battleground
Reno, Nev., which calls itself the "The Biggest Little City in the World," is hurting.
"It's not like it used to be," said Jean Weiss, manager of a local souvenir shop. "It's not like the good old days."
The economic slump has driven down tourism and pushed casinos out of business. Some tourist stops see days or nights with few customers.
"We have several of those nights," said Cory Hurrle, comptroller of a casino called the Nugget on Reno's main drag.
Even Reno's fabled wedding chapels are gasping for air.
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"I am a tough old bird," said Mary Van Dusseldorf, owner of the Antique Angel Chapel. "When business gets tough the tough get going."
Reno may be in a bad way, but it's enjoying a moment right now at the center of the most crucial county in one of the most crucial states in this election. Nevada is the westernmost battleground state and has gone for the winning presidential candidate in almost every election in the last century.
While the area around Las Vegas is reliably Democrat, the rural areas normally votes Republican, leaving Washoe country, home to Reno, the key battleground for the state.
Washoe County voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but it's not flooded with social conservatives. This is, after all, a place where prostitution is legal, making this state's Republican party different from others around the country.
"One of our best volunteers used to be a madam," said a representative of Nevada 's Republican party. "This is an all-inclusive party."
The county has become more liberal with nearly 50,000 Californians, mostly Democrats, moving in, in recent years. While Sen. Hillary Clinton won Nevada's Democratic caucus, the economic slump in Reno has also made more locals receptive to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign.
"Obama has done an excellent job," said Dr. Eric Herzik, professor of political science at University of Nevada, Reno. "[John] McCain's campaign has really lagged."
Local Republicans told ABC News that they'll mount a last- minute push.
If McCain doesn't carry the struggling streets of the "Biggest Little City in the World," he probably won't win the most powerful office in the land.
Same-Sex Marriage Proposition Spurs Emotions on All Sides of Issue
In a room on the top floor of an evangelical church in San Diego, dozens of Christians are engaged in 40 days of round-the-clock praying and fasting. They are asking God to stop gay marriage in California.
"We believe it's a defining moment in American history," said Lou Engel of the evangelical group, The Call. "As California goes, so goes the whole nation. And in many ways, California is a leadership state for not just America but the whole world."
At a Unitarian church across town, Jan Garbosky and Bonny Russell, both retired educators, tied the knot after 20 years of partnership just a few weeks ago.
"We thought this would never happen in our lifetime, at our age," Garbosky said.
Religious groups across the nation -- including evangelicals, Catholics and Mormons -- have mobilized in support of Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that would overturn California's Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage.
If passed, the proposition would change the state's constitution, redefining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
Since the Supreme Court's May decision, gay couples eagerly flew to California. Massachusetts and Connecticut also have legalized same-sex marriage.
The fight over California's Proposition 8 has become one of the most expensive campaigns in the country -- second only to the presidential race.
Groups on both sides of the issue have thrown millions into the race. Supporters include Focus on the Family, the Knights of Columbus and members of the Mormon church. Opponents include Hollywood celebrity donors like Brad Pitt, Stephen Spielberg and Ellen DeGeneres.
At least one prominent evangelical has been quoted as saying that the Proposition 8 campaign is more important than the presidential race.
Many Christians believe that scripture prohibits homosexuality. If gay marriage is allowed to stand, some evangelicals suggest, it would force churches to marry gays, force schools to teach gay marriage, settling off a snowball effect and opening the door to pedophilia and bestiality.
Bill Sizemore, 'Ballot-ician,' Proposes Ballot Initiatives
With his business casual attire and slightly shaggy hair, Bill Sizemore looks like a regular guy. But he is the focus of a multimillion dollar campaign of negative attack ads -- and he's not even a politician.
Sizemore is what's called a "ballot-ician." Over the past 14 years, the former businessman has filed more than a hundred ballot initiatives, on everything from property taxes to education to home construction.
As he showed me stacks paper containing rows of petition signatures neatly piled up on desk, I asked him, "Do you sit around the house and dream this stuff up and then write it?"
"Yes," he said. "That's how it happens."
Sizemore had five initiatives on the ballot during the election, including one that would lower state taxes, one that would give merit pay to teachers and one that would allow homeowners to do $35,000 worth of renovations to their homes without getting a permit.
"I have strong convictions about basic issues," he said. "Things like property rights, lower taxes. I think issues like that are moral issues."
In his attempt to change Oregon's laws, however, Sizemore -- who's a self-described conservative -- has made a powerful and diverse coalition of enemies. Their basic argument is that Sizemore's initiatives may sound good at first glance but are usually so vaguely worded and ill-conceived that they would have enormously negative consequences.
This year, as they do every year, Sizemore's opponents -- led by the state public employee unions -- mounted a multimillion dollar campaign against Sizemore's initiatives, including television ads and an anti-Sizemore Web site.
Members of the Oregon teachers' union said Sizemore's education initiatives would hurt students.
"He has no experience in education," public school teacher Jen Murray said. "He writes these initiatives where he doesn't have to deal with the consequences, whereas all Oregonians in public school will."
Sizemore's critics say he's motivated not only by his conservative philosophy but also by money.
Washington's Race for Governor Plays Into National Republican Unpopularity
Washington, especially Seattle, is a state so blue that "Republicans for Obama" bumper stickers are common. At Halloween costume stores this season, Barack Obama is easily outselling John McCain.
One customer told us, "I'm going as an endangered species -- a Republican."
It's a challenging environment for Republican Dino Rossi, who's decided to run for governor under the label GOP instead of Republican.
GOP, short for the Grand Old Party, has been a nickname for the Republican Party since the 1800s. Rossi is using GOP in his campaign ads, and on the ballot.
While the term is well-entrenched, many people believe his decision is an effort to distance himself from the damaged brand of the Republican Party, something Rossi himself disputes.
"That's sheer silliness," he told ABC News. "Every speech I give, I talk about me being a Republican. That's no secret."
Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire, who beat Rossi by 133 votes in 2004, disagrees. She sued, unsuccessfully, to force Rossi to put "Republican" next to his name on the ballot.
He "says he's 'GOP'... knowing full well people don't know what that stands for," Gregoire said. "And knowing full well that if they're confused, they might think he's a Democrat."
Rossi denied that the move to GOP was intended to "confuse" Democratic voters into voting Republican.
"Well, most everyone I know knows GOP means Republican," he said.
One polls shows 25 percent of Washington voters, including 18 percent of Washington Republicans, didn't know what GOP means.
"That's a good question," said one Lakewood voter. "I actually don't know the answer to that."
Republicans across the country are resorting to extraordinary measures to distance themselves from a party weighed down by an unpopular president.
In Oregon, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith is running ads linking himself to Obama in hopes of gaining appeal.
Whatever Rossi's motives may be, many believe that using GOP, instead of Republican on the ballot, could give him an edge in what is expected to be another tight race.
"World News" is road-tripping this week through some hotly contested battleground states. Senior producer Tom Nagorski blogs from our bus while driving through Ohio:
The word "battleground" may be overused, but there is no question that the state of Ohio once again fits the bill better than any other. No GOP nominee has gone to the White House without winning here, and it's one of the tightest states at the moment.
Folks here know all this -- they are being bombarded with ads, and as one Dayton native told us, "Don't know how we do it, but we always seem to get it right." Meaning: How Ohio goes, so goes the nation.
Ohio is also ground zero for an assault on manufacturing jobs -- nearly 17 percent of those jobs have left the state since 2001. We met four men who had worked for between 10 and 15 years for General Motors, only to learn just last week that their plant in Moraine is shutting down. These men have poured their lives into GM -- three had fathers and two had grandfathers who worked on the GM lines as well.
One is for McCain, two are for Obama and one is leaning McCain but not certain. Interestingly, one of the Obama supporters has never voted for a Democrat for president, and the other borrowed a McCain slogan to say, "Country first -- I'm voting for the Democrats."
The four men agree on this much: The economy overwhelms all else, and they have faith in themselves and their country to bounce back.
One view from the battleground.
State Forced to Postpone Bridge Repairs, Limit School and Shelter Funding
If you want to get a sense of how your state government may look soon, check out Rhode Island.
The governor and state legislature were forced to make budget cuts that are affecting nearly every aspect of life.
From postponing bridge repairs -- about half of bridges are considered deficient -- to cutting back hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles, to raising fees at senior citizen centers.
The state has also been unable to provide additional funding for struggling public schools.
At the University of Rhode Island, experienced professors were encouraged to retire in exchange for less experienced, less expensive faculty.
The budget cuts have affected the school "in every way possible," said Brenna McCabe, editor in chief of the Good Five Cent Cigar, the University of Rhode Island's student newspaper.
"I think they're under the impression that the quality of education here is decreasing," McCabe said.
Rhode Island may be a canary in the coal mine. This state, which has the second highest unemployment rates in the nation, was hit hard by the housing bubble, went into recession and had to make significant budget cuts. Hundreds of city and state workers have had their benefits cut. Now other states are catching up.
Virginia laid off 570 state workers; Missouri is delaying plans to fix its main airport; Minnesota scrapped a plan to expand its 911 system. And California said it might have to ask the Federal Reserve System for a loan to cover expenses at schools, police stations and nursing homes.
As often happens when budgets are cut, it is Rhode Island's poor who suffer the most.
The main food bank has seen its state funding slashed by half -- at a time when it's seeing a flood of new clients.
There is "more need and more people who are really desperate for help," said Andrew Schiff, executive director of Rhode Island Community Food Bank. "And that's what we're really concerned about. It's not even winter."
At the state's largest homeless shelter, which is also dealing with big budget cuts, the living room has turned into a makeshift bedroom for 16 women. At night, the chairs double as beds.
Charlie Gibson Talks to Iowans About Finance, Fear and 401ks
The "World News" Battleground Bus Tour's first stop was Dixon, Ill., to see Ronald Reagan's boyhood home. We were just curious about it really -- but we were visiting at the point the market was down 700 points this morning, so we stopped off to meet the local broker.
"We're trying to encourage people to, one, to make sure they're diversified properly and, two, if it's not money you need right away, you just need to stick to it," said Kim Pettigrove, financial advisor with Edward Jones. "I am booked throughout the day, and I have a stack of phone messages I keep trying to get back to."
Across the street in the local book store, four retirees made appointments to see Pettigrove.
"Like everyone else I got that quarterly [retirement savings] report a week ago and went, 'Oh, my God'; it was just really scary," said Marilyn Coffey. "I had a total of $125,000. It was down $17,000 in three months."
Coffey's husband was more optimistic.
"I think the bottom is close and I think it will start rebounding," said Tom Coffey. "But my fear, again, is that when you retire, your needs are more immediate. So hopefully, it will rebound faster than when I run out."
Next, the bus tour was off to a family farm in Eldridge, Iowa.
Neal Keppy and his brother run a 1,900-acre family farm. They grow corn and soybeans, and raise 7,000 pigs each year for market. For them, times are pretty good.
"It's kind of like the stock market," Keppy said. "It's more volatile now than any time in history before. The market now can move up and down 30 cents a day for corn -- whereas when my brother and I first started farming corn in 2000 ... if it moved 30 cents in a year that was a big move."
Overwhelming Effort to Get Out the Vote in Georgia
It's a Friday night in Valdosta, Georgia, and what looks like the whole town is in the football stadium stands, cheering for the home team. Shouts of "Come on defense" and "Go Wildcats" ring out across the field.
But it's not just football that's happening there. In this election year, the local stadium is one of the many places across town where they're registering voters.
"I went to a high school football game, to watch the high school band primarily, and as I walked up there was a table there registering people to vote," said Deb Cox, the director of the Board of Elections. "It would be difficult to not register if you weren't registered to vote in Loude's county."
At the grocery store, at restaurants, even on the street corners, there's someone there, registering voters. In the last two weeks alone, 4,000 new voters have signed up.
Watch the story tonight on "World News" at 6:30 p.m. ET
According to Ricky Rowe, whose son is the quarterback, people in Valdosta are worried about higher gas prices and lower home prices.
"I think the economic issues have taken the forefront of this election, and we've really not heard -- I've not heard from either side -- how to solve the issues," he said.
Voters Worried About Fate of Small Business and Retirement
In the swing state with the biggest electoral prize in the country, Interstate 4 could be the road to victory.
I-4 cuts across Central Florida from Tampa to Daytona. It divides the reliably Republican north and west from the heavily Democratic Miami area.
I-4 is the battleground.
"We are the fastest growing region in Florida," said Aubrey Jewett, an associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. "And because we have so many newcomers, they are not always necessarily so set in their political ways."
Unlike parts of the state with older voters who've generally got their minds made up, Central Florida is made up of many young groups who aren't registered with either party. The combination of demographics and new voters makes the area especially volatile.
There are 2 million new voters in Florida since the 2000 election, many of whom are spooked by the Wall Street meltdown.
The fastest growing demographic of new voters in Florida is Hispanic. Puerto Ricans, who compose a large part of the Central Florida mix, have tended to lean Democratic. But many have been swayed in recent elections, making them a crucial swing vote. "One other issue, of course, that Hispanics care a great deal about in Central Florida is immigration. For a while, earlier this year, that was a burning issue," Jewett said. "That's kind of faded as the economy and the war in Iraq and other things seemed to be the big issues."
Polls show that Florida voters now are most concerned about the economy.
At the Tomato Express Supermarket, which specializes in products from South America, business from last year has fallen 35 percent.
Stella Siracuza, the supermarket's owner for 17 years, says that as her customers face financial stress and cut back on purchases, she feels the strain of rising costs and lower profits.
"It's very, very real for me and very real for my customers," Siracuza said. "Something has got to be done and I just don't see that's happening fast enough. I'm feeling the economy go down. I'm feeling it in sales. I feel it in my customers and I don't see anything happening fast enough."
With No Bust, North Dakotans Hold Their Breath on Bailout
In Fargo, N.D., the reassuring daily sound of a train speeding to bring local farmers' corn to market is being drowned out by the sound of frustration.
Local talk radio host Scott Hennen has gotten an earful from viewers who called into his show.
"I don't trust -- I just don't trust Congress anymore," one caller said. "It's never the Americans that are the winners in this deal."
Hennen has found his listeners to be both angry and frustrated.
"We're back to the 'Scott Hennen Show,' where you have a voice. Ladies and gentleman, join the club, the common sense club -- get it off your chest," Hennen said to his listeners. "I know you're mad. I know you're ticked. I know you want to throw things at the radio or television or C-Span and say, 'Ugh, how did we get into this position?'"
Fargo locals are annoyed by the government's lack of action and failed efforts to solve the financial crisis, Hennen said.
People are "part disgusted -- part angry -- people are ticked. I think that there is a realization that we have no choice at this point but to do something significant," Hennen said. "A lot of people here feel it's bad government and bad decisions. It's not a failure of the free enterprise system that we are in this pickle -- it's a failure of bad government, and that ticks people off."
North Dakotans consider Fargo as a place of stability in surrounding rough economic times. While the economy has not boomed, there have been no big busts either.
"They say the economy's weak, [but] they haven't come to Fargo," said E.J. Gabel, a local construction worker. "We've got a good economy here, and house prices aren't terrible."
Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy said he is trying to keep it this way; he voted in favor of the $700 billion financial rescue plan Monday, which failed to pass in the House of Representatives.
Officials Prepare for Record Turnout; Worry About Voting Persists
Faidley's Seafood in Baltimore has served up crab cakes for more than a century; these days the talk at lunchtime is all about the election.
"I think you will get more voters going to the polls in this election than any other election," said Lou Flemming, a frequent customer at Faidley's.
The election excitement is higher in Maryland than in other years because of the historic nature of Barack Obama's candidacy.
"You got history," Flemming said. "You've never had an African-American run for president in this country."
"I'm already registered," one diner said. "Hopefully, I'll be the first one there."
Maryland is a Democratic stronghold; Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry won in Maryland by greater margins than in all but three states.
One reason for the Democrats' strength here stems from the state's demographics: Nearly 30 percent of the population is black. And with Obama on the ticket, the African-American community is expected to turn out in record numbers to vote.
While voter apathy won't be a problem, their excitement is tempered by serious doubts about fairness at the polls.
"You ask yourself the question: Will white America let a black man run this country?" Baltimore resident Raymond Hall said. "For me, my opinion, the answer is no. So I really don't think it's going to be fair."
Maryland has had problems in the past. In 2006, predominantly black precincts in Prince George's County did not have enough poll workers or voting machines.
"The lines were so long in the middle of the day that a lot of people just had to give up and couldn't vote," said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. "I'm concerned that that could happen again in 2008."
In 2006, there were also efforts to manipulate black voters. Leaflets were distributed throughout predominately minority neighborhoods, warning voters to stay away from the polls if they hadn't paid their parking tickets or child support. Or claiming, falsely, that black leaders had endorsed Republicans.
"The colors of the material were in red, black and green, all designed to encourage African-American voters to think that their African-American representatives were supporting Republican candidates for the Senate seat and the governor's seat," said Sherrilyn Iffil, professor at the University of Maryland Law School and co-chair of the Maryland Attorney General's task force on voter irregularities.
Poll Shows Obama With Three-Point Lead Over McCain
Virginia, a traditionally conservative state, has become a key battleground, with 13 electoral votes at stake in the election. A Democrat has not carried the state of Virginia since 1964, and few have seriously competed in Virginia -- until Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Victoria McCullough, regional field director of the Obama campaign, is part of Obama's small army that seeks to sway undecided voters in local neighborhoods.
"This is a fantastic crowd for a Sunday afternoon," McCullough said, impressed at the turnout for the recent event in Williamsburg, Va. "This looks great."
Working with Obama's campaign, Emily Pease is her local neighborhood leader. Through Obama's campaign Web site, she maps out neighbors in her area who are still on the fence.
"I see close friends [on the map], but then I see all these people I don't know," Pease said. "It tells me who our neighbors are."
Neighbors are the key to the Obama campaign's strategy in Virginia, what they call their "persuasion army." Their plan focuses on personal initiatives in the neighborhood, such as backyard barbeques, that they believe may win more voters than a TV ad.
"They see each other at the grocery store. They see each other at church," said Mitch Stewart, Obama's campaign director in Virginia. "They know and trust each other."
Obama's decision to compete in the state of Virginia is a testament to the changing political tides. A population boom in the more moderate Washington, D.C., suburbs has shifted the state demographic. The state has elected two Democratic governors -- former Gov. Mark Warner and Gov. Tim Kaine, who catapulted into the spotlight as a potential vice presidential running mate for Barack Obama, as well as a Democratic senator, Jim Webb, in the last six years.
A new ABC News poll out on Monday finds that Obama is gaining ground across the state, even in once-Republican strongholds; Obama holds a narrow three-point lead over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
More than demographic changes, Obama's lead comes from economic concerns about the economy -- an area that 52 percent of voters defined as their most important issue, and an area where Obama holds an advantage over McCain.
Aboard the Whistle Stop Express, Rick Klein sits down with Bennett Levin, the owner of the Pennsylvania 120, one of the most storied cars in American history. Levin bought the car in 1985, however it was built in 1928 to transport high-ranking officials from the Pennsylvania railroad in luxury. This week, the car housed Sen. Clinton for a sit-down interview with Good Morning America's Diane Sawyer, but in years past, the train has carried such notable figures as Presidents Herbert Hoover and John F. Kennedy as well as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.
SILVER CREEK, N.Y. -- After the Whistle Stop Tour made a stop in Albany, N.Y., where Sen. Clinton boarded the train to talk to GMA's Diane Sawyer about the Democratic ticket and her thoughts on Gov. Palin, the ABC News team is heading to Ohio after a brief stop in Pennsylvania. But, first, those on board had a quick moment to get off the train in Western New York State. Check out my video blog from day two for more nuggets from Clinton and a look at how the crisis on Wall Street is effecting local voters in New York.