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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Las Vegas holds the key to Democrats' Senate dream

Republican-held Nevada seat is the only one up for grabs in a state that voted Democrat in 2016

Democratic candidate Jacky Rosen greets singer Brandon Flowers at a rally for her Senate campaign on November 2, 2018, in Las Vegas. AP Photo
Democratic candidate Jacky Rosen greets singer Brandon Flowers at a rally for her Senate campaign on November 2, 2018, in Las Vegas. AP Photo

Celebrities, Trumps and political big hitters are descending on Las Vegas as Republicans and Democrats launch their final push for a crucial Senate seat in the US midterms, but the result may come down to an army of croupiers and cleaners, waiters and dancers fanning out across the city to take their message to voters.

Ana, a casino porter, adjusted her red union cap and paused before ringing the next doorbell to set out the stakes involved.

“We think if Dean Heller is defeated, Democrats will control the balance in the Senate so we can stop many of the policies that Trump wants to do,” she said, talking about the Republican senator for Nevada.

She is one of 250 canvassers from the Culinary Union 226 — whose 57,000 members are regarded as the state’s most powerful political force — working more than 10 hours a day, six days a week since August to swing the seat from red to blue.

On Saturday, she was sent to a northern neighbourhood of low-rise apartment blocks and bungalows, just off Route 95, to chase up registered Democrats. With Jacky Rosen, the Democratic challenger, running neck and neck with Mr Heller, every vote counts.

Up for grabs is not just a Senate seat, control of the governor’s house or a slate of state political positions: Nevada is central to Democrats’ hopes of winning the Senate itself and limiting Mr Trump’s power.

Most areas where Senate seats are being contested on Tuesday went solidly for the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election. Nevada is different. Mr Heller is particularly vulnerable as the only incumbent Republican defending a seat in a state that backed Hillary Clinton.

Victory here would mean success for Democrats in their wider strategy across once reliably red zones of Texas, Arizona and Georgia, where they hope a younger, diversifying population is turning decisively to the left.

Defeat would almost certainly end hopes of winning the Senate, where Republicans currently hold a 51-49 majority, this time around.

Polls suggest the outcome is a toss-up. The latest surveys have Ms Rosen inching ahead during the past week by two to three percentage points but turnout on the day could change everything.

Both sides have poured resources into the state. Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, his vice president, have all spent time in Nevada.

Donald Trump Jr arrived on Friday to stump for Republican candidates and remind core supporters of the importance of turning out on Tuesday.

“I don’t want to wake up on Wednesday morning and think 'man I wish we had one more rally',” he said. “Man I wish we made one more phone call, man I wish I drug one more person, because that’s how tight it can be.”

Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers and a Las Vegas native, performed for Democrats while Jimmy Kimmel, a late-night chat show host who is also from the city, revved up union workers on Saturday morning.

He arrived at the Culinary Workers’ headquarters with Ms Rosen, whose own first job was as a waitress on the Las Vegas strip.

“We are going to repeal and replace Dean Heller. He may have Donald Trump as a best friend but I have all of you,” said Ms Rosen to raucous cheers, as spoke about both health care — lampooning Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare — and the fact that she wants this election to be a referendum on the president.

Mr Kimmel has become a darling of the left since he shared the story of his baby son, who needed expensive surgery after being born with congenital heart defects, to support calls for universal health care.

“I just wanted to come and say thank you to you guys because I know you are out there knocking on doors, encouraging your friends and family to vote the right way — and we all know the right way is Jacky Rosen,” he said, before posing for selfies with campaigners.

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Like much of the country, Nevada is split between urban and rural. Although Mr Trump’s name is literally up in lights over Las Vegas, thanks to the Trump International Hotel, the city’s hundreds of thousands of casino and hotel workers reliably break Democrat.

But to win statewide, Democrats need to keep turnout high particularly among Hispanic voters, who tend to thin out when the midterms roll around.

This is where Ana comes in. Originally from Guatemala, she settled in the city in 2004, building up a furniture business before losing it — along with her marriage — amid the difficult years that followed the 2008 crash.

Her union job at a casino made her one of the lucky ones, she said, as she described raising two sons, one of whom has just gone to university. This is her first time out knocking doors, she said, but she has a simple story to tell.

“The majority of people in America are working people so that’s where Democrats have to focus,” she said. “Trump is for the wealthy.”

President Donald Trump arrives with Republican senator Dean Heller for a rally  in Elko, Nevada. AP Photo
President Donald Trump arrives with Republican senator Dean Heller for a rally  in Elko, Nevada. AP Photo