LAS VEGAS – Derek Stonebarger, owner of ReBar, a bar that doubles as an antique store in the Las Vegas Arts District, was just starting to get back on his feet when Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered bars to once again close.
“It’s a scary time to be a small business owner. It’s a scary time to have your American dream literally ripped from you,” Stonebarger said.
Less than two months after reopening businesses and the iconic Las Vegas Strip, a rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations prompted Gov. Sisolak to scale back the state’s reopening plan.
The pandemic has crippled the tourism-driven Nevada economy. The state suffered historic unemployment rates at 30.1 percent in April and 25.3 percent in May, before dropping to 15 percent in June following the reopening of the Vegas Strip.
However, the progress might be short-lived as COVID-19 cases rise – Nevada has been listed as a “red zone” in an internal document prepared by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity for the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, according to the Review-Journal.
“We’re always slower to recover than anyplace else because we depend on tourism. People have to have little money in their pocket to want to go on holiday,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) told Fox News.
Stonebarger and many other small businesses are now left wondering if they’ll be able to survive a second shutdown.
“This one is just like hell; you may never reopen. You can just dwindle your savings. You can mortgage your house and still never be able to open,” Stonebarger told Fox News.
But the economic downturn in Nevada might prove to be a silver lining for President Donald Trump in a state that he narrowly lost in 2016 to Hillary Clinton. His campaign sees an opportunity to flip Nevada from blue to red by positioning Trump as the candidate who can rebuild the economy.
“If our economy is roaring by November, the president will be in spectacular shape. If it’s not roaring, then the voters will still have to choose between two visions for Nevada and our country,” Adam Laxalt, former Nevada attorney general and current co-chair of Trump’s Nevada re-election campaign. “This is one of the few presidential elections where we have two people on the ballot where you can actually see their record.”
The polls are mixed.
A recent national poll conducted by NBC News/WSJ has Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by double-digits, however, a majority of voters still approve of Trump’s handling of the economy.
A Fox News poll conducted in January showed Biden leading Trump 47 percent to 39 percent in Nevada, however, since the pandemic, the Nevada Independent, citing findings from Democratic pollster John Anzalone between April 27-30 for a partisan group, shows the race much closer with Trump only trailing the presumptive Democratic nominee by 4 percent.
A Quinnipiac University poll between July 9-13 shows the former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee with a 15 percentage point lead nationally, with Trump losing to Biden on the economy — 50 percent to 45 percent.
“Obviously, he shouldn’t be blamed for a virus that came in from a foreign country. I think people are going to be able to remember what the economy felt like heading into the coronavirus,” Laxalt said, adding that “if we want Nevada to come back, if we want Nevada’s economy to be strong, we need a second term of President Trump.”
But Congresswoman Titus argues that Biden, not Trump has the experience to navigate Nevada and the country out of the recession.
“He helped us through the last big recession,” Rep. Titus said, referring to Biden’s role in overseeing the 2009 economic recovery for former President Barack Obama. “He was put in charge of the stimulus package when he was vice president. So, I think he can help us through this one as well. I just I feel like he’s been there, he walked in our shoes and that he can get us out of this.”
Biden was tasked with overseeing the $787 billion economic stimulus package, to turnaround a free-falling economy during the 2008 recession.
Obama officials credit the legislation with jumpstarting the economy and setting the stage for the economic gains under the Trump Administration.
During the Obama administration, the unemployment rate fell steadily after reaching a high of 10 percent early in his first term.
Under the Trump administration, the stock market surged – it grew 31 percent in the 807 trading days before Trump’s election, but rose by 56 percent in the 807 trading days after it, up through the third anniversary of Trump’s inauguration this January, according to a Fox Business analysis.
Unemployment had continued to fall under Trump – dropping to 3.8 percent in February, among the lowest on record – before spiking as a result of the coronavirus, which has infected 3.6 million Americans and killed more than 139,000.
In June, the country had an 11.1 percent unemployment rate and 17.8 million people unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, in the week ending July 11, a total of 1.3 million Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment, marking the 17th week the number has surpassed 1 million. The jobless rate and the number of unemployed are up by 7.6 percentage points and 12.0 million, respectively, since February.
“We’ve seen no overall plan from this president, unlike Joe Biden, who put out a pretty thorough economic plan just in the last few days that included some health care reforms as well as economic reforms,” Titus said.
Earlier this month Biden released his “Build Back Better” plan to rival Trump’s “America First” agenda, which proposes $700 billion in spending on American products and research in hopes of bringing back millions of jobs in the aftermath of economic hardship imposed by the pandemic.
Trump laid out a vision for a potential second term during an interview with Fox News on July 10, telling Sean Hannity that after defeating coronavirus he will turn toward rebuilding the economy.
“We’re going to rebuild the economy. We’re going to bring back jobs from all these foreign lands that have stolen our jobs on horrible trade deals. We’re going to continue to make great trade deals,” Trump told Hannity during a phone interview.
Adding that, “We’re going to have a great third quarter. We’re going to have a great fourth quarter. And next year is going to be the best, I think is going to be one of the best years we’ve ever had.”
Dr. Robert Lang, professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, underscored the importance of the economy and how it translates at the ballot box being “typically one of the largest, if not the largest driver of an election.”
But he noted the importance of the timing of the economic recovery, which could minimize the impact of a Trump rebound heading into November.
“The second quarter tends to be the one that really determines the outcome. You don’t even know you vote in the fourth quarter. Technically, you don’t even feel the third quarter. But you remember how it felt in the late spring of an election. And the country is not great in the late spring of this election.”
But Laxalt is confident in Trump’s chances, telling Fox News the campaign has “more people on the ground, more enthusiasm” than in 2016, and the “prospects are strong to be able to hold Nevada and flip it this cycle.”
Laxalt responded to concerns from Joshua Skaggs, former Nevada regional director for the Trump campaign, who in a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and obtained by the Nevada Independent, cited concerns that the president “will not prevail” in November and registration numbers are being “falsely inflated” to make the odds look more favorable than they actually are.
“Obviously people complain on campaigns, that’s been going on since the beginning of time. Some people think they know more than other people in campaigns. I’ve had that in my own campaigns, by the way, where you have individual people that feel like other people aren’t going in the right direction,” Laxalt told Fox News.
And while the polls continue to show Biden in the lead, the campaign is not going to be caught off-guard like in 2016.
“That was a hard lesson to learn. We all thought Hillary was going to win that election. So we are not going to be complacent,” Titus said. “I think that Nevada will go blue, but we are doing everything to be sure that that’s the case.”
Fox’s Brooke Singman contributed to this report.