Both parties rolling the dice in Nevada
Republicans and Democrats are holding conferences in Las Vegas this week and seven of the leading GOP contenders are participating in a CNN debate here Tuesday -- evidence, activists in both parties say, that the state could play a pivotal role not only in the race for the Republican presidential nomination but also in the general election.

"Where Nevada goes so goes the presidency," Republican political consultant Robert Uithoven said noting the state's history of correctly choosing the eventual winner of the White House in general elections.

While President Barack Obama easily won Nevada in 2008 and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected last year, Republican Brian Sandoval won the governorship in 2010. In presidential politics, it has become a swing state -- one both parties believe could be critical to capturing the White House.

Key issues confronting the nation -- unemployment, foreclosures and illegal immigration -- are playing out front and center here and can offer opportunities as well as pitfalls for each party.

The state reported the highest unemployment in the nation in August at 13.4% and its home foreclosure rankings also were the highest in the country.

Republicans will attack the Obama White House as not helping to cure the state's economic downturn.

"Our economy is worst than anywhere in the nation," consultant Uithoven, who is unaffiliated in the nomination fight, said. "Hope and change ... has not made it here."

Democrats will counter, saying the president will offer better solutions than whoever ends up being the GOP nominee and will put a lot of effort to win here.

"What we showed in 2010, elections are about choices," one senior Nevada Democratic strategist told CNN.

With Hispanics making up 27% of the state's population and a key Democratic constituency, the illegal immigration issue is expected to be a major topic for the general election. While Hispanic activists are not happy with the White House's progress on comprehensive immigration reform, the Obama re-election campaign can be expected to tout what the president has tried to accomplish.

If the Republican nominee is former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, then Democrats will attack his push for strict border enforcement.

Romney, for his part, can be expected to focus on how his jobs proposals will help bolster the state and shape immigration as an economic issue while his team hopes the strong sentiments about the issue elsewhere are softer here farther away from the border.

While his immigration stance might cause Romney complications in Nevada if he wins the nomination, Uithoven said it is helping him build support among conservatives in the state right now.

If the nominee is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the issue becomes more muddied. As governor, Perry has criticized the effectiveness of the border fence and signed legislation allowing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

One reason analysts cite why Reid was able to win his tough re-election fight last year was some of the tough rhetoric offered by Republican challenger Sharron Angle on immigration.

Since 2004, spurred by Reid, Democrats have succeeded in improving their get-out-the vote apparatus and enlarging their voter list with a particular focus on Latinos. About 65,000 more Democrats are currently registered in the state than Republicans.

"In Nevada, people kept saying to me, 'Why have you spent years and years working with the Hispanic community? What a waste of your time.' Number one, they don't register and they don't vote," Reid told the Project New West Summit in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Project New West is a political conference bringing together Democrats from across the West.

"In 2010, their productivity at the ballot box showed they are a significant power in the state of Nevada. ... I would not be the majority leader of the United States today but for the Hispanics in Nevada," Reid said.