LAS VEGAS—This city has seen more political commercials than anywhere else in 2012, more than anywhere else in the history of presidential campaigns: 73,000 TV ads, according to The New York Times. In an election with only a handful of states that are considered up for grabs, the importance of Nevada's six electoral votes was highlighted when President Barack Obama chose Lake Las Vegas, a golf resort east of here, as the place to spend three days preparing for the first presidential debate.
The state's Hispanic voters are especially sought-after: According to Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager, Latino voters are particularly crucial this year in Nevada, as well as in Colorado and Florida.
"As evidenced by the explosive growth among Latinos, Nevada offers a case study in the demographic changes that are transforming large swaths of the country and, in the process, reshaping the electoral map," David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told Yahoo News. "As older white voters die out, they'll be replaced by nonwhite voters."
There are more than 50.5 million Hispanics in the United States. That's a 43 percent increase in the Hispanic population in the past 12 years.
Yahoo News headed to Nevada earlier this year to find out what's on the minds of some of the most important voters in one of the most important states of Campaign 2012.
'I don't want to vote for the wrong guy. But it's really hard to find out who the wrong guy is.'
Austreberto Hernandez, known as "Asti," will be a junior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas this fall, studying political science and business management. This summer he worked two jobs, registering voters for Mi Familia Vota and working as an intern for the Latin Chamber of Commerce Community Foundation.
Hernandez and his six siblings were all born in the United States: Their father came across the border from Mexico looking for work in the 1980s and became a citizen because of the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986.
"Ever since I can remember we would go from city to city looking for work," Hernandez, a registered independent, told Yahoo News. "Vegas was booming in the early '90s. It was just exploding. It was blowing out of the water. So everyone just headed here."
'I'm a Hispanic Republican. We're almost a minority inside a minority.'
Omero Alexandro Garza, who goes by "Alex," started working as a child in his family's truck stop. He taught middle school and then worked in real estate, starting out part-time at Century 21, then eventually founding his own real estate firm before moving on to other jobs in the industry.
"Without question, the primary issue for Hispanics is the economy," says Garza. "Immigration is near and dear to every Hispanic's heart. It's always going to be important to us. But more important is whether or not we have a job."
Garza's father came to the United States from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant. "He gained his amnesty under Ronald Reagan so it kind of just stems from there," Garza told Yahoo News, referring to his status as a registered Republican.
His house is underwater. He says he put down $80,000 on a $400,000 mortgage for a home that is now valued at $190,000. His wife has taken a job teaching English in Abu Dhabi, so the family is in the midst of moving to another country. "I mean I don't want to cry, but it's difficult because this was our hopes and dreams; this is where we raised our kids," Garza says. "It's the only house my children have known. It's difficult to go from stability within your family to instability and uncertainty."
He plans to vote by absentee ballot for Mitt Romney.
'If you look at the demographics, we are going to be the majority.'
Helena Garcia, 53, styles herself "La Protectora." She's a real estate broker who also co-founded Latinos in Action, a pro bono advocacy group that tries to help people who think they have been cheated.
"If I only had to do real estate I would be very unhappy," Garcia told Yahoo News, adding that she prefers "going out into the community and seeing people's problems and devastation."
Garcia's family came to Las Vegas in 1956 from Juarez, Mexico. Her father worked as a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant. Although she's a registered independent, she sides with the Democrats.
"In my opinion, most of the people in the Republican Party are racist and the majority of them want that more conservative view of 'Go back to where you came from,'" Garcia says. "There is no excuse not to pass the DREAM Act when these kids are going to better our country; they are going to bring more education to our country. Most of them are fully bilingual so you bring more culture and languages to our country. There is no other reason not to pass the DREAM Act except for racism."
Bob Sacha is a multimedia producer, a documentary filmmaker, a photojournalist, an editor and a teacher. Zach Wise is an interactive producer, a filmmaker and a professor at Northwestern University. Earlier this month, they talked to small-business owners along Colorado's Colfax Avenue. In July, Bob Sacha and Miki Meek traveled to Northern Virginia to talk to Mormons about what a President Romney would mean to them. In March, they drove Ohio's I-71 and talked to Republicans before Super Tuesday.