As Sharron Angle wended her way around the rural roads of northern Nevada on Thursday, she hoped that doing so would speed her down the highway to victory. Whether that actually happens will depend on three factors.
First, Angle must stay within single digits of incumbent Sen. Harry Reid in Clark County, where Las Vegas sits and 70 percent of the state’s population resides. Democrats have a 13 percent registration edge in the county, and so far 14,000 more Democrats than Republicans have cast early votes there, giving them a 46–38 percent edge (though this just reflects party registration; there is no telling who they voted for). If the independents are breaking for Angle — and they probably are — she should be close to what she needs in Clark, but she cannot lose any ground.
Second, Angle must win Washoe County, where Reno-Sparks is the urban center and registration is about evenly divided. In early voting there, Republicans have outvoted Democrats by around 2,900 votes. However, Angle could have a problem if state-senate minority leader Bill Raggio and Reno mayor Bob Cashell — popular northern Republicans who have disavowed her and endorsed Reid — can persuade enough GOP voters, as well as independents, to pass her by. Washoe is winnable for Angle, but it is by no means a sure thing. Angle needs to squeak out a win, or at least not lose by too much, and the worse she does there, the better she must do in Clark.
Third, Angle must drive turnout and beat Reid handily in the rural counties, which contain only 10 percent of the state’s population but could be the key to a win. The rural counties are important if Angle holds steady in Clark County and keeps Washoe close; they will be crucial if she bleeds too many votes from either urban base. That’s why she was campaigning there today.
For example, in 2004 — a presidential election year, so the numbers are not directly comparable — John Kerry did well in both Clark and Washoe but lost statewide because he did not carry enough rural votes. Kerry won urban Nevada by 16,000 votes (a margin built mostly in Clark County) but was beaten in all 15 rural counties by a ratio of about five to two. He lost the state by more than 21,000 votes.
Yet comparisons are probably futile, and possibly foolish, in an election year and a race that are incomparable to any in memory. Among other things, early voting has broken all midterm records — as much as 60 percent of the state will have voted by Friday — making Election Day turnout less of a factor than ever before.
The campaigns must roll on, though, and anything could still happen Tuesday in the race of all races. Sharron Angle is betting that pulling votes in the rural counties is the best road to victory.
Angle with supporters Thursday in Battle Mountain, NV