With eyes on the presidential debate in New York, we decided to turn ours to the swing state of Nevada, where President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney are battling mightily over the state's small but crucial trove of six electoral votes.
Polls show the race at a near dead heat in the Silver State, which was hit harder than any other by the recession, and still records among the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates in the nation.
While recovering slowly, Nevada's unemployment rate remains at 12 percent, down from a 2010 high of 14 percent. And though the state has dropped to fifth in the nation in foreclosures, a sad list now topped by Florida, some of the slowing can be tied to new court-required judgments.
Tuesday is the last day to register to vote in Nevada, and early in-person voting starts Saturday. Current numbers show Democrats have a registration advantage of close to 90,000 votes statewide, where 1.25 million people are registered to vote this year.
When we traveled to Nevada earlier this year to talk to voters before the Feb. 4 Nevada caucuses, among those we heard from were:
-- Adventure travel business founder Jared Fisher, who voted for Obama in 2008 and still supported the president;
-- Realtor Jillian Batchelor, who voted for Obama in 2008 but told us that she wouldn't again;
-- At-home travel agent Robin Caprice, who voted for Obama in 2008 but wanted to vote for Romney, who was then still battling for the GOP nomination.
In the hours leading up to the presidential debate at New York's Hofstra University, we caught up on their political plans:
Jared Fisher, 42, described himself earlier this year as not Republican nor Democrat, but a "Mormon guy" who voted for Obama largely because of environmental issues, including the climate change he sees up close leading hiking and biking adventures in the American West.
Now Fisher finds himself still deciding between Obama, whom he admires for being a politician who "wants to be the president who got things done," and Romney, whose personal values as embodied by the Mormon Church he deeply admires.
"I'm still in the middle — I'm torn," says Fisher, who is preparing to move soon into his company's new multimillion-dollar "zero energy" use building. It was easier to vote for Obama in 2008, he said, because he liked GOP nominee John McCain a lot less than he likes Romney.
"Obama's given a lot of things his best shot, and most successful business owners have failed many times before getting it right," he said. "Even though Obama made a lot of promises, I didn't expect him to pull everything off."
Fisher, a married father of four, says that while he respects Romney's values, "I don't know if he'll be a president with someone's hand up his back."
The Mormon Church urges its members to vote every election, Fisher says, though this year he's noted "a hair more encouragement." But he says he hasn't been pressured and feels his church and its officials have "done well" remaining neutral, even though some members have urged support for Romney, who is Mormon.
Fisher said he will watch Tuesday's debate, still looking for the final piece of his puzzle.
Jillian Batchelor, 30, and her husband became short-sale and foreclosure specialists when the housing market tanked after 2005. But she characterized 2011 as a record-breaking year selling to investors with cash in hand — a hot sellers' market, but with low prices.
Since then, she said, "our market has actually gotten even hotter."
Inventory is the lowest it has been since such records started being kept in the 1970s, she said, and $250,000-and-under homes that are priced right shouldn't be on the market more than seven days and are attracting multiple offers over asking price.
Home prices continue to rise, she said, though in many cases they are still half of what they were in 2005, when Las Vegas was the fastest-growing urban area in the county.
All-cash sales and investor sales still account for the bulk of the market, she said.
"We are seeing a lot of money being pumped into the economy," she said.
Still, despite the market improvement, Batchelor says she wants a change in political leadership.
"I don't think that any president, Democrat or Republican, can cause the economy to tank," she said. "Obama has tried to make some changes to help the lower class, but jobs are still pretty hard to come by."
Batchelor says she has concerns about Obama's health care legislation and its associated costs, and she sees other issues outside the housing market not improving.
"There are certain things about the Republican Party I don't agree with, and certain things with the Democratic Party I don't agree with," she said. "But I give Romney the edge. It just couldn't hurt to get someone new in there."
She plans to watch the debate, but it's unlikely to affect her decision.
"Something would have to blow my socks off," she said. "I'm 99 percent sure I'm going to vote Republican."
Robin Caprice, in her 50s, and her husband, Charlie, took advantage of the down market in the Las Vegas area and in 2011 moved from California to the Sun City Anthem retirement and golf community in suburban Henderson.
Both she and her husband, who is battling cancer, said they wanted to see Romney get the GOP nomination so they could vote for him this fall — and they still plan to do so.
"We want to see big changes," Robin Caprice said Tuesday. "We'd like to see our money stay here and not go to foreign countries when we need the help."
She says she sees Obama as supporting sending jobs overseas, and when asked to elaborate, pointed to out-of-country help desk call centers.
Though she knows it isn't in line with Republican doctrine, Caprice says she also would like to see the country move to government-provided universal health care.
"I would like to see free health care, like they have in Canada and Europe," she says. "And I'd also like to see our Social Security payments increase."
Caprice says she still sees desperate people in the local economy, though not in her retirement community, where homes are now selling almost as quickly as they come on the market.
"I still feel the country is on the wrong track, and that there haven't been any big changes under Obama," she said. "I though he'd bring more jobs, and a better situation with home loans and lenders."
Caprice said she planned to watch the debate, but says it wouldn't influence her vote. Her mind is made up. Just like most voters in this state, which is coming back from devastation, but still sees a long way to daylight.