The next GOP presidential debate, on Tuesday, will be taking place in Nevada – the state with the highest rate of unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies in the nation.

And Latinos, who are slightly more than one-fourth of the state’s population, fare even worse than the general population.

Last year, for instance, while the state unemployment rate was about 14 percent, the rate for Nevada’s Latinos was 18.6, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Latinos also earn an average of $8,500 less than the average salary in the state of $43,000, according to Applied Analysis, a Las Vegas research firm.

Nonetheless, Nevada’s Latinos have been a pivotal force in politics – not just at the state level, but also nationally.

The state’s governor, Brian Sandoval, is Latino and Republican. Sandoval endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, for president.

And U.S. Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat, credits the state’s Latinos with his re-election in 2010, when two-thirds of Latinos supported him. Momentum for his candidacy gained a boost after his challenger, Republican Sharron Angle, drew the ire of many Latinos in the state who felt her hard-line comments and commercials about illegal immigration veered into stereotyping Latinos.

Both parties have taken notice of Nevada Latinos’ growing political power, and have been courting the group, who – with 224,000 eligible voters – comprise 14 percent of all eligible voters in the state.

Moreover, Nevada is scheduled to hold its GOP caucus on January 14, making it the first such contest in the western part of the United States. Republicans and Democrats are hosting competing conferences here to plan their 2012 strategies.

President Obama, who carried Nevada by more than 12 points in 2008, will be campaigning in the state on Oct. 24.

Earlier this year, the GOP launched an anti-Obama media campaign aimed at Latinos in several states, including Nevada, where their numbers are growing.

The campaign comes just days after Republicans announced plans to go after Latino voters next year through an initiative to attract Latino candidates to run for office.

The advertising campaign, which aired on radio stations in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, criticized President Obama’s handling of the economy. The campaign, by the Republican National Committee, tried to link the president’s role in unemployment, taxes, the deficit and national debt to the financial struggles that Hispanics are facing.

Days later, Democrats shot back, releasing a Latino-targeted ad campaign casting Republican handling of several issues as going against the best interests of Latinos.

The 30-second spot, aired in Hispanic-dominated markets including Las Vegas, Denver, and Miami, blasted Republicans for trying to end Medicare and lowering taxes to the rich – and said Democrats offered real solutions.

The Hispanic population grew to 50.5 million in 2010 from 35.3 million in 2000. About 21 million are eligible to vote.

This story contains material from The Associated Press.

Follow Elizabeth Llorente on Twitter: @LlorenteLatino

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Elizabeth Llorente is the Politics Editor/Senior Reporter for Fox News Latino, and can be reached at Follow her on

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