LAS VEGAS — For lifelong Republican Kent Greene, a lawyer easing into retirement with afternoon rounds of golf, there's no question he'll be voting for Donald Trump, even though the controversial candidate may not be the best fit for his Mormon values.
"I just don't like the way the country is going," Greene said of sticking with his party's presidential nominee. "It's not what I would like. It's not the ideal. But I have to vote for what I think is going to be the best based on my beliefs."
Mormons make up about 6 percent of Nevada's population, and more than half of them live in the Las Vegas area, where the third and final presidential debate will be held Wednesday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Nevada, which has a nearly perfect record of backing White House winners through much of the past century, is a swing state that in 2012 chose President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney, the first major party Mormon nominee.
Like reliably Republican and largely Mormon Utah, suddenly in the national spotlight for polls showing a statistical three-way tie between Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton and independent candidate Evan McMullin, the race in Nevada is too close to call.
"We're trying to stay neutral in this thing," said Cory Christensen, director of Nevada's Republican state assembly caucus PAC and a former state finance director and adviser to Romney.
Christensen said after seeing candidates like Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., get booed recently for denouncing Trump at a rally for his Senate bid attended by Romney, he and other Republicans are "trying to walk a tightrope."
The Nevada GOP — which includes more than 70 percent of the state's Mormons — is split, he said, with the same far-right voters who saw Romney as "too establishment" four years ago now backing Trump.
Christensen is among the Mormons expected to make up as much as 15 percent of Nevada's voter turnout, a result of the LDS Church's teachings about civic responsiblity. But he declined to say how he plans to vote.
"This is a messed-up year," said Nicole Benson, a Mormon Republican who lives in The Lakes area of Las Vegas. The mother of two and elementary school tutor said at first she saw Trump's "off the cuff" style as entertaining but didn't take him seriously.
Now that Trump is her party's nominee, Benson said she's leaning toward voting for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson because of his call for less government, or "none of the above," a ballot option unique to Nevada.
McMullin, a Mormon with Utah ties who got in the race in August, is not on the Nevada ballot. Benson, so frustrated with the presidential race that she's tried to tune much of it out, said she hadn't heard of McMullin.
She doesn't see her vote as affecting the outcome of the race, predicting the winner will be Clinton.
"I'm not a Hillary Clinton fan," Benson said. "I think it's really cool a woman will finally be president. I wish it was another woman."
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said this election is a stark contrast with 2012 for the many Mormon voters who worked hard for Romney.
"I can’t imagine a bigger change from 2012, where you had so many Mormons feeling very enthusiastic about the opportunity to vote for a Mormon candidate," to now, where "many of them (are) feeling discouraged," Karpowitz said.
That's led to less unity than usual among Mormon voters, he said, and questions about how much they will end up participating in the election process, even in a close race like Nevada's, where their votes could make a difference.
"If you’re feeling 'none of the above' is the best option, it’s harder to get motivated to go to the polls and choose that," Karpowitz said. "The only thing they are unified in is they wish there were better options."
Greene, who lives in Henderson's Green Valley, said his politics, like all aspects of his life, are guided by his faith.
"My faith is important to me. That's basically what makes up my values and how I see things, how I see the issues," he said.
Although Trump wasn't who he wanted to see at the top of the ticket, Greene said he's more comfortable with the billionaire businessman than with Clinton or a third-party candidate.
"Even though I'm not in favor of some of the things that Trump has done and some of the things he says, I think his position on some of the key issues is definitely closer to my thinking," including immigration, he said.
Trump's call for a ban on Muslim immigrants last year troubled many Mormons who heard echos of the treatment endured by early members of the LDS Church. But Greene said he sees such a ban as a temporary but necessary measure.
More concerning is the recently surfaced tape of Trump talking about making sexual advances on women in 2005, although he said he hopes the candidate "has learned from that and will change his approach."
Boyd Matheson, president of the Sutherland Institute, a Salt Lake-based think tank, said Mormons and many other voters are struggling with trying to reconcile their beliefs with Trump's behavior, especially his statements about women.
"Is it a bigger loss for us to normalize this kind of behavior than it is to lose the presidency? That’s always the battle" for people of faith, Matheson said. "They’re trying to create space or preserve a space with a lot of those values and principles."
Utahns for Trump's Don Peay, in Las Vegas for the debate, said Nevada "clearly can be the key deciding factor in a close race."
"The pathway to the White House goes through Nevada," he said. "(Trump) needs Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah. It's important."
Peay, who urged Mormons to support Trump at a recent rally in Henderson, said Nevadans are used to their swing-state status and are focused on issues rather than reacting to the Trump tape, as a number of Utah leaders did.
Utah, a state that hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, "has never been in presidential politics," Peay said, while in states like Nevada, "the people get fairly sophisticated. They’re not going to throw their vote away."46 comments on this story
Kaleb Anderson, an attorney who lives in The Lakes area of Las Vegas, said he doesn't envy his Republican Mormon friends. As a Democrat, he said having Trump in the race helped cement his support for Clinton.
"I have voted for Republicans in the past. The temptation doesn’t exist," Anderson said. "That must be quite a crisis to be a member of the church and a Republican. What do you do? I’m glad I don’t have that crisis of conscience."