John Kerry (search) is betting on Nevada as he scours the political map for a Republican state he can call his own.

Four years after President Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore (search) by 4 percentage points in Nevada, Democrats have found hope in the state's growing Hispanic population and a controversy over a high-level nuclear waste site.

Nearly 5,000 new residents flock to Nevada each month, many of them Hispanics who tend to vote Democratic. Republicans, however, have seen gains in the growing suburbs around Las Vegas.

Nevada is fighting the Bush administration over the Yucca Mountain dump site 90 miles from Las Vegas. Kerry has voted against it. Bush supports it.

But a recent poll by Mason-Dixon raises questions about the dump site's impact on presidential politics. Only 3 percent of voters listed it as their top issue, and two-thirds said Bush's position would have no influence on their vote.

The top issues in Nevada are homeland security and the war on terror, with the Iraq war and the economy close behind.

In most battleground states, jobs and the economy top the war on terror on voters' lists, but Nevada has gained nearly 90,000 jobs since Bush took office. Three Nevada troops have died in the Iraq war.

Several public and private polls give Bush a slight lead in the state.

After Ohio and Florida, both won by Bush in 2000, Nevada may be Kerry's top target on the GOP state list. Colorado, New Hampshire and West Virginia, all won by Bush four years ago, are also high on Kerry's list while Arizona, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Virginia have fallen off.

BY THE NUMBERS:

5 — Number of electoral votes.

4,700 — Average number of new residents each month, since 1990.

77,000 — Metric tons of radioactive waste that would be stored at Nevada's Yucca Mountain under plans endorsed by George Bush and opposed by John Kerry

315,400— Casino-related jobs, almost a third of all jobs in the state.

QUOTABLE:

— "I don't know how people can know what policies Kerry stands for because he's changed his position so many times on so many issues, like war." — Gregory Green, 24, a Reno college student who served five years in the Air Force including a brief stint in Iraq.

— "He's trying to take away women's reproductive rights." — Darcy McCormick, 23, of Reno, on Bush. "Enough said."

NOTABLE:

Almost evenly divided between registered Democrats and Republicans, Nevada has voted for the winner in the past six presidential elections.

Paper-trail electronic voting machines are in use in much of Nevada this election season. Seven of 17 counties used punch-card machines in the last election.

Nevada is fighting the Bush administration over construction of a high-level nuclear waste dump in the desert 90 miles from Las Vegas. Kerry has voted against Nevada's Yucca Mountain as the dump site. Bush supports it.

WHAT TO WATCH ON ELECTION NIGHT:

Clark County, encompassing Las Vegas, accounts for about 70 percent of the statewide vote and its returns will be among the earliest on election night. Watch for returns that tend to come in later from Washoe and Douglas counties and Carson City in northwestern Nevada, all with more GOP voters than Democrats.

Democrats say Kerry could benefit from the turnout for a statewide ballot initiative that would add $1 to the state's $5.15 minimum wage for employees lacking health insurance. It is backed by organized labor.

IN NEVADA FOUR YEARS AGO:

Gore won populous Clark County 51 to 45 percent but lost statewide by 4 percentage points. Exit polls indicated Gore received only half the labor vote in Nevada, and that might have cost him a crucial swing state. About 47 percent of Nevadans voted before Election Day, either by absentee or early balloting.