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Nev. Voters Scrutinize Candidates' Economic Messages


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Mitt Romney released his 2011 tax returns yesterday after months of pressure, and this week President Obama and his opponent sparred over remarks secretly recorded at a recent Romney fundraiser. Mr. Romney was in Nevada again yesterday. Both candidates have spent a lot of time in that battleground state. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea talked to voters in Reno.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The battle for Nevada will likely be settled in Washoe County, which is home to Reno.


GONYEA: Last night at dinner time a pub specializing in craft beers in the city was starting to fill up. Fifty-year-old Lorne Hall sat at the bar with his brother and two friends.

LORNE HALL: My opinion is that I would vote for anybody but Obama - and in that case I would vote for Romney.

GONYEA: Hall also says he knows Romney's campaign has been struggling a bit to stay on message. As for that video from last May, but which just surfaced this week showing him making disparaging remarks about Obama supporters and about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes, Hall says this:

HALL: Yeah, I didn't see it. I don't pay attention to the nuts and bolts and the daily mudslinging, if you will.

GONYEA: Also at the craft beer place was 38-year-old middle school teacher Claire Hettinger. She's an Obama backer. I asked her about the Romney tape and the part where Romney says of Obama supporters and of those not paying federal taxes, quote, "my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," end quote.

CLAIRE HETTINGER: That was very offensive. Because no matter who you vote for, is that your president is your president and that that candidate should serve everybody regardless. And to say that was just offensive to somebody who would vote for Obama.

GONYEA: In a park across town, it was time for an event called Food Truck Friday.


GONYEA: A local musician plays as people line up at the row of trucks selling ethnic, American and other foods. Pat and Jenny Herz are here. He's 61, a retired physician; she's 56, a retired lab tech. She describes herself as a registered Republican, but who's more of an independent. She voted for President Obama four years ago. This year, she says she's not yet made up her mind.

JENNY HERZ: I have not. I don't want to cast a none-of-the-above vote and waste my vote, so I will make a decision one way or the other. Mitt Romney scares the daylights out of me with some of his policies for women's health, but I'm not enamored with Obama at this point either.

GONYEA: She said she does give Romney some credit, though, for not backing down from what he said on that tape. Her husband describes himself as a Republican turned independent. Here's his take on the Romney fundraiser statement.

PAT HERZ: Well, I think that was one of the most dreadfully stupid things that he could have done anytime during the election is come out on tape and get caught saying what he was saying.

GONYEA: He then adds...

HERZ: But my Republican roots, I have to emphasis with what he said. There's too many people on the public dole and I know some of them, and it irritates me to no end.

GONYEA: But Herz is not so understanding of Romney's refusal to make public 10 years' worth of full tax returns. Romney's has released his 2010 taxes and just yesterday, his 2011 returns, plus a statement by his accounting firm that he's never paid less than 13.7 percent of his income in federal taxes going back to 1990. Herz says that's not good enough. Polls in Nevada give President Obama a lead, but just by two or three points. It's an area where the President is seen as having a significant edge. Meanwhile, political analysts say Romney needs to get back on message and more if he wants to overcome that. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Reno. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.