Straddling the border of Nevada and Utah, the community of Wendover is split in two. On the Nevada side, voters could help decide the next U.S. president. Across the street, in Utah, voters almost certainly won’t.

Thanks to the Electoral College system, the 2024 election will likely be determined by a handful of swing states. Utah, which has voted for the Republican nominee in every election since 1964, is not one of them. Nevada, which President Joe Biden won by two percentage points in 2020, is.

That has turned half of Wendover into a battleground. In West Wendover, Nevada, campaigns are already flooding residents with robocalls and texts messages, and super PACs are filling mailboxes with flyers. “We really get hit hard with that,” West Wendover Mayor Jasie Holm said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s a little bit much.”

Both candidates have taken notice. During the 2024 cycle, Biden has visited Nevada three times, and Donald Trump has visited four. Trump’s fifth visit will be this Sunday, when he rallies in Las Vegas.

Down the road, on the Utah side of the border, things are quiet. “They’re dynamic, and we’re not,” said Mayor Dennis Sweat of Wendover, Utah. “It’s really that simple.”

Wendover, Utah Mayor Dennis Sweat poses for a photo on Friday, May 31, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Nevada is ‘on the verge of going red,’ top pollster says

The two cities have long viewed themselves largely as one community. Efforts have been made to annex Wendover into Nevada and form a single city; the last push, in 2001, stalled in the U.S. Senate. West Wendover observes Mountain time zone, the only city in Nevada to do so, in a show of unity with its other half.

While business has boomed and the population has grown in West Wendover on the Nevada side, the sleepy town of Wendover hovers around a population of 1,000 people. Most of Wendover’s residents work in West Wendover, population 5,000, where the casinos — the city’s biggest employers — are legal.

Wendover’s annual city budget is less than $2 million; West Wendover’s is $16 million. A recent Las Vegas Journal-Review analysis found that public employees in West Wendover were paid much higher than their counterparts in Wendover. One of the Utah town’s biggest challenges is convincing city employees — from city managers to police — to stay. “This is one of the conundrums living next to West Wendover. They have money,” said Sweat. “You could live in the same home and make a whole lot more money, just working across the line.”

Wendover and West Wendover, Nevada, state line is pictured on Friday, May 31, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In an election year, that state line serves as a delineator for more than salaries.

Experts predict that Nevada — along with Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — are this year’s battleground states for the presidential election.

In past election cycles, Nevada has been a bellwether for the country. It has been a swing state in every election since 2008, and since 1976, the Republican and Democratic candidates have each won the state six times. In that span, the candidate who won Nevada went on to win the White House 10 of 12 times.

In 2020, Biden edged Trump in Nevada by two percentage points. But Biden’s approval rating in the state now hovers in the mid-30s, and polls show Trump with an edge, thanks to voters’ widespread discontentment with the economy. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll suggests that the economy is the top issue for Nevada voters, followed by immigration. Most Nevada voters (56%) rate the economy as “poor”; less than 20% rate it as “good” or “excellent.”

That discontent is reflected in voters’ opinions: 61% of Nevadans say they trust Trump to do a better job on the economy; 32% say they trust Biden.

“It is concerning to me when I keep seeing press come out of the White House where they keep saying the economy is good,” one Nevada voter told The New York Times when the polling data was released. “That’s really weird, because I’m paying more on taxes and more on groceries and more on housing and more on fuel. So that doesn’t feel good.”

In addition to determining the presidential race, Nevadans could help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate. The Nevada Senate race is one of the three “toss-up” elections, according to the Cook Political Report, that could determine whether Democrats maintain a slim majority or Republicans retake control of the upper chamber. The outcome will be crucial in determining how effective Biden or Trump are in carrying out their legislative agendas.

Of course, their battleground-state status does not make Nevada voters inherently better than Utahns — only more influential. “‘Swing’ or ‘battleground’ states are mere accidents of geography,” wrote Jack Rackove, emeritus professor of political science at Stanford University. “They do not matter because they have any special civic characteristics. They simply happen to be states that become competitive because of their demography, and which are readily identifiable as such because of the increasing sophistication of political polling.”

West Wendover, Nevada Mayor Jasie Holm poses for a photo at the city offices on Friday, May 31, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

That accident is fortuitous for those who live on the west side of the Nevada-Utah border. Elko County, Nevada, is usually red, but West Wendover leans more blue — “that makes us a swing city in a swing state,” Holm said. During the 2020 cycle, West Wendover got a visit from a Democratic presidential candidate, Julian Castro. The town’s last mayor, Daniel Corona, is now a deputy political director on the Biden campaign. There is chatter of a prominent Biden surrogate, perhaps first gentleman Doug Emhoff, making a visit to the town before November. (Holm, for her part, likes the idea. “I would be honored to meet the president,” she said, grinning.)

Meanwhile, Wendover has never, in its 116-year history, welcomed a presidential candidate to town. Utah hasn’t been a swing state since the 1940s, and the Republican candidate has won every election by at least 15 percentage points in 14 straight election cycles. In Wendover, the reality of a single-party state — mixed with small-town priorities — leads to something like ambivalence. “Nobody really cares about national politics all that much here,” said Sweat. “You just go to work, do your eight hours, go home and live your life.”

Ahead of November’s election, Holm, the mayor of West Wendover, expects things to get chaotic. “It’s brewing up,” she said. “I think we’re going to get hit hard with signs and calls and people getting their opinion out.” She doesn’t plan on making an endorsement, but she has an elaborate plan to encourage her city to vote: “I will tell them where to vote, how to vote, all the voting information that they need: mail-in vote, come up to City Hall and vote,” she said.

Across town, in Wendover, things are much more quiet. “We usually run a newspaper ad, encouraging residents to vote,” Sweat said. “But that’s about as much effort as we put into it.”

A tower in the city of Wendover, Utah, on Friday, May 31, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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