Reno's Economic Slump Sways Nevada Voters

If McCain can't carry Reno, it's likely he won't win the presidential race.

Oct. 30, 2008 — -- 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.