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Why One Trump-Leaning Battleground Is Especially Worrisome for Biden

PoliticsWhy One Trump-Leaning Battleground Is Especially Worrisome for Biden

When the country catches a cold, Nevada gets the flu. That’s the common wisdom for the economy in the state, which is heavily dependent on tourism and suffered more than any other from pandemic lockdowns.

The same idea could apply to President Biden’s polling numbers. New surveys by The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Siena College published on Monday showed Mr. Biden trailing former President Donald J. Trump in nearly every battleground state, but he appeared to be in the roughest shape in Nevada, where he was down by 12 percentage points among registered voters.

In Nevada, two of Mr. Biden’s biggest problems — his weakness with Hispanic voters and pessimism over his handling of the economy — seem magnified. With the state’s economy slow to recover from the pandemic, 61 percent of registered voters in the poll said they trusted Mr. Trump to do a better job handling the economy, compared with 32 percent who trusted Mr. Biden. And Hispanic voters, whose support was crucial to Mr. Biden in 2020, said they preferred Mr. Trump to him by nine points in a head-to-head matchup.

Democrats in the state acknowledge the challenge ahead of them. But they note that Nevada is a notoriously difficult state to survey, with polls in recent cycles underestimating Democratic candidates who went on to win. A Republican presidential candidate has not won Nevada since 2004.

“Like everything in organizing, it’s not going to be easy,” Ted Pappageorge, the secretary-treasurer of the state’s 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union, a key part of the Democratic coalition in Nevada, said in a statement. “But we do have a plan to win and we think that voters, when confronted with receipts of Trump and his chaos, and Biden and his leadership and what he has done for working people, will make the right decision.”

Other Nevada polls also show Mr. Trump ahead of Mr. Biden, although by a smaller margin.

Few political operatives expect anything other than a close race in the state in November, and certainly not a double-digit blowout; even Republicans expressed surprise at the size of Mr. Trump’s polling lead. Mr. Biden won Nevada by about 2.5 points in 2020, capitalizing on the powerful organizational advantage that Democrats have long enjoyed in the state. And Democrats said their political machine — made up of members of the Culinary Union and party loyalists assembled by Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader who died in 2021 — was not yet fully active.

Mr. Pappageorge said an enormous political effort from his union, which knocked on more than one million doors in 2022, would begin in earnest by early fall. “Expect polling numbers to start to move as more voters and canvass operations focus on the presidential race,” he said.

Nothing is likelier to bolster Mr. Biden’s chances than abortion, an issue that has aided Democratic candidates since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, ending a constitutional right to the procedure. Even in conservative states, voters have turned out in droves to back abortion rights. Nevada is likely to have a measure on the November ballot that would enshrine access to abortion until fetal viability, or about 24 weeks, in the state’s Constitution.

“Nevadans have a choice between President Biden, who got our economy back on track, and Donald Trump, who will ban abortion and stands with the corporate landlords squeezing our families,” said Tai Sims, a spokesman for the Nevada Democratic Party.

But Nevada was the only battleground state to move to the right from the 2016 election to the 2020 contest, and economic indicators have flashed warning lights ever since the pandemic decimated Nevada’s ability to welcome tourists to casinos and sporting events in Las Vegas and Reno. The state’s Democratic governor lost re-election in 2022.

As in many states, Nevada voters said the economy and inflation were the most important issues to them. A strong majority of voters said the political and economic systems of the United States needed “major changes” or should be “torn down entirely.” Voters were far more likely to say that Mr. Trump would provide such drastic changes.

Although the state has recovered since the pandemic, with visitors to Las Vegas in March nearly matching prepandemic levels and Nevada’s unemployment rate cut in half since Mr. Biden took office, many Nevadans say they are not seeing relief. More than 80 percent of registered voters described the economy as “only fair” or “poor.” Gas prices stand at about $4.40 per gallon, close to the highest in the nation, and as of March, Nevada trailed only California and Washington, D.C., for the highest unemployment rate.

Republicans are trying to capitalize on these statistics, telling voters that Mr. Biden is to blame for high prices and day-to-day challenges.

“When Biden came out last year saying Bidenomics is working and bragging about it, people didn’t understand why — that’s not the reality,” said Eddie Diaz, the Nevada strategic director for the Libre Initiative, an arm of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity that focuses on Hispanic voters. “People are struggling.”

Libre and Americans for Prosperity have railed against Mr. Biden’s economic policies, arguing that his pandemic relief aid and infrastructure spending contributed to soaring inflation and that his environmental restrictions are part of the reason gas prices are high. The groups have knocked on tens of thousands of doors in Nevada and held events at grocery stores and gas stations around the state.

Americans for Prosperity endorsed Mr. Trump’s top rival, Nikki Haley, in the Republican primary race, but both groups are spreading an anti-Biden message and campaigning for Sam Brown, the Republican favored to face Senator Jacky Rosen, a Democrat, in the state’s competitive Senate contest this fall. Ms. Rosen is running well ahead of Mr. Biden, with a two-point lead against Mr. Brown among registered voters, according to the Times/Siena poll.

Democrats have been worried about Mr. Trump’s apparent gains with people of color around the country, especially among Hispanic voters without a college degree. Still, in Nevada, the Times/Siena poll suggested that Mr. Biden had time to turn things around.

The poll indicated that Hispanic voters in particular were still making up their minds: Fewer than half said they were “definitely” going to vote for the candidate they had chosen in the poll. And they were less likely to say that they were paying close attention to the news and politics. Nevada is also difficult to poll, given its transient population, high percentage of Spanish speakers and the number of blue-collar employees who work late-night shifts.

Nationally, the poll had plenty of other bad news for Mr. Biden, showing that he trailed among registered voters in every battleground state except Wisconsin.

Mr. Trump’s campaign suggested the poll numbers were a result of a backlash over the criminal charges he is facing.

“Democrats’ strategy to weaponize the justice system against President Trump is backfiring and rallying Americans of all backgrounds to support President Trump,” Karoline Leavitt, a campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Mr. Biden has dismissed the utility of polls this far before the election, saying voters aren’t paying attention yet. His advisers say his huge advantage in campaign infrastructure in Nevada will propel him to victory there.

So far, Mr. Biden has outspent his rival on advertising in the state by millions of dollars. Several of those ads are geared toward Hispanic voters, including one highlighting Mr. Trump’s history of inflammatory comments about immigrants. Others include a Spanish-language ad featuring a Marine Corps veteran slamming Mr. Trump over abortion.

The Biden campaign has also opened 11 offices and hired more than 40 staff members in Nevada. And he, Vice President Kamala Harris and surrogates like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, whose mother lives in Las Vegas, have made several appearances in the state.

At two events last weekend in Las Vegas, Mr. Booker spoke with volunteers and snapped selfies to celebrate the Biden campaign’s first door-knocking event in southern Nevada. Then volunteers went out to meet voters, spreading messages about abortion, Mr. Biden’s efforts to lower costs and the threat to democracy they say Mr. Trump poses.

Democrats in Nevada have been helped by long-running dysfunction in the state’s Republican Party. But conservative operatives are building up a ground game in Nevada through third-party groups like Turning Point Action.

At a recent training for Republican activists in Las Vegas, Nevada-based representatives from Turning Point and other conservative groups said they were working to encourage early voting and collect ballots before Election Day. That’s an area that Republicans in Nevada and elsewhere had all but ceded to Democrats in the past.

“The radical left is really beating us at the ballot game,” Amy Wood, a Turning Point field representative in Nevada, told activists at the training session. “We’re going to chase the vote.”

Reporting was contributed by Ruth Igielnik, Alexandra Berzon and Jennifer Medina.

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