LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- In the shadow of a statue honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., members of the majority African-American West Las Vegas community staged a march to the polls and rally Saturday morning, the first day of early voting in the state.
"I think that Clark County is truly going to put Obama over the top and Nevada will be blue," said John Hunt, chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party in an interview after the march.
In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 21,500 votes in Nevada. At the time, Republicans held a less than 4,500 advantage over Democrats in voter registrations, but this year Democratic registration has more than closed that gap, stretching to a 100,000 voter advantage. Kerry beat Bush in Clark County -- Nevada's largest -- by more than 26,000 votes, but the rest of the state went for Bush. In some rural communities, Bush beat Kerry by more than a 3-to-1 margin. Had Kerry won Nevada, he would have won the White House.
Obama supporters rally on the first day of early voting in Nevada
Both campaigns are pushing their supporters to lock in their votes early, but the push seems especially strong on the Democratic side.
"[Democrats] show up to all the rallies, but now we need to make sure they show up to the polls," said Hunt, who expects 50 percent or more voters to vote early.
People like Eddie Watson are making sure everyone who is eligible makes it to the polls. "This is my district and my job as a captain for Obama is to get people out to vote and to pick them up," Watson tells me as he serves as my de facto tour guide of the community.
Watson spent the morning driving people to and from the polls, a job he says he'll continue doing until early voting closes October 31, then again on Election Day. A former president of the Las Vegas chapter of the NAACP, Watson has called the city home for more than 30 years and the retiree says he's probably busier now than when he was working.
Eddie Watson in his voter taxi
"I've been up since 5, I've been going since then, and I got like another 7 or 8 people to pick up. Then we'll have lunch and then we'll get on the phone, we'll call another group of people, and then we'll start the cycle all over again," he says.
Talking to Watson, it's clear to me that he's busy even when an election isn't on. In the car with us is a young boy Watson is driving home who spent the morning at a shooting range at nearby Nellis Air Force Base as part of the Civil Air Patrol cadet program. As we drive past a crowded football field, Watson tells me how the community all pitched in time and money to build it several years ago.
"A young person in Las Vegas should never say they are bored," he tells me."There's simply too much in this town for young people to do and too many people that care enough about young people to keep them out of trouble."
We drop off one woman who didn't have time to wait in the unexpected line, but she isn't discouraged and will be back. "They're laughing and talking and having a good time [at the polls], and I wish I could stay, but I am pressed for time," she says. Before she leaves the car, she schedules a ride with Watson for Monday.
Back at the polling place, I talk to one woman who hasn't voted in 30 years.
"I used to vote every year, to tell you the truth. When we was back in Mississippi, we didn't get to vote, you see," Ethel May Fletcher, who moved to Nevada in 1945, tells me.
Ethel May Fletcher, casting her first ballot in decades, is interviewed by a local TV station
Like most Obama supporters, Fletcher thinks the country is on the wrong track. But considering the 91-year-old has lived through both world wars, the great depression, and the civil rights era, I give her assessment a little more weight than some of the 18-year-old first-time voters I meet.
Before we part ways, I ask her if she plans on waiting another 30 years before voting again or if she plans on voting to reelect Barack Obama in 2012. "If I be living, that's right. I wouldn't miss it," she says.
UPDATE: The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported today that of the 25,110 people who cast ballots on the first day of early voting, 62 percent were registered Democrats, 23 percent Republicans, and the rest were nonpartisans or members of third parties. Granted not all people will vote in line with their registration, it looks like quite a day for Clark County Democrats,