RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevadans on Tuesday once again delivered their battleground state to Barack Obama, resisting Republican Mitt Romney's call for change. In a state suffering some of the worst unemployment and housing foreclosure rates in the nation, most voters didn't blame the president directly for their economic woes, and many believe things are getting better.
Preliminary exit poll results show more Nevada voters blame Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, than they do the president for the current economic conditions that many Republicans had believed would help put the key swing state back in the red column after Obama's surprising 12 percentage point victory over Sen. John McCain.
Nevadans also narrowly sided with Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller who won a hard-fought race with seven-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley by about 12,000 votes, 46 percent to 45 percent. They re-elected Republican U.S. Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, returned Democrat Dina Titus to Congress after a two-year hiatus, and sent the state's first black Senate majority leader, Democrat Steven Horsford, to Washington to fill a new House district stretching across the middle of the state.
Although it was a closer race than in 2008, final results early Wednesday showed Obama won Nevada's six electoral votes with 52 percent of the vote to Romney's 46 percent.
It means Nevada continues its reputation as the nation's best bellwether over the past century, having voted for the candidate that wins the White House in 25 of the last 26 elections dating to 1912 — the lone exception when Jimmy Carter won in 1976.
Exit polls showed Obama was buoyed by another huge showing from union Democrats in Las Vegas and carried Hispanics by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. He also had a significant advantage among women statewide, including a 2-to-1 margin with women under age 30, according to the preliminary exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research in a random statewide sample.
The gender gap that Obama benefited from in the presidential race didn't appear to be translating to the U.S. Senate race, where Berkley's advantage among women was barely outside the margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. It also showed that while Berkley had a significant advantage in her hometown of Las Vegas and Clark County, Heller was faring significantly better there than Romney did.
Romney did better than McCain among minorities in general, the polling showed. One-third of Nevada voters who are independents or third-party members also sided with Romney after preferring Obama four years ago.
Romney came closer than McCain but fell short in Reno's traditionally-GOP leaning Washoe County, where Obama had become the first Democrat to triumph since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Obama won by 23,000 votes four years ago and carried it by nearly 7,000 votes this time.
In the end, the Democratic storm in southern Nevada's Clark County — which favored Obama by 14 percentage points, down from 19 points last time — was too much to overcome when combined with voters' apparent reluctance to pin the blame for the economy on Obama.
In fact, exit polling showed Nevadans were evenly divided on whether Obama or Romney would better handle the economy.
Citing the economy as their top concern far more often than health care, the federal deficit or foreign policy, nearly three-fourths of Nevada voters surveyed described the U.S. economic condition as "poor" or "not so good."
But about 4 out of 10 think the economy is getting better. Three out of 10 think it's getting worse, and a similar number think it's about the same.