The Campaign Spot

What Does the GOP’s Big Lead in Nevada’s Early Vote Mean?

The early-vote figures in Nevada look phenomenally good for Republicans and phenomenally bad for Democrats. While Republicans may hope it’s an early indicator of a wide-ranging national wave in favor of the GOP, there are some factors there that are unique to Nevada.

For starters, this year Nevada doesn’t have a big statewide race with the high stakes and drama of 2010’s Harry Reid–Sharron Angle showdown. And the Democrats effectively conceded the governor’s race against Republican Brian Sandoval, as little-known Bob Goodman, a former Nevada state economic developer, will be the token opposition in this race.

But Jon Ralston, the foremost journalist covering Nevada politics, thinks this is something bigger that merely a state Democratic party feeling the blahs.

“Yes, the Democrats conceded the governor’s race,” Ralston said. “Yes, they always knew it was a tough year with no [big race at the] top of the ticket. But I don’t think anyone expected how tilted it has been so far. The GOP is 10 points over registration; Democrats barely holding theirs. If that keeps up, it will be a disaster for the Democrats on Nov. 4.”

And while the gubernatorial race wasn’t expected to be competitive, Nevada Democrats had high hopes for the lieutenant governor’s race — as Sandoval is believed to be a potential Senate candidate in 2016 against Harry Reid. A Democratic lieutenant governor would make that decision much harder for Sandoval. The current lieutenant governor, Brian K. Krolicki, is term-limited; GOP state senator Mark Hutchison is competing against Democratic assemblywoman Lucy Flores.

Democrats currently hold most of the other statewide offices — secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, and controller.

Ralston warns that the Democrats “could lose every statewide race and sure things such as Rep. Steven Horsford in the fourth Congressional District could be in jeopardy — that’s why Crossroads just dumped a million bucks on TV here to hit Horsford.” State assemblyman Crescent Hardy is running for the Republicans in that district.

Ralston cautions that Democrats could still turn it around, with 10 days of early voting left, and Election Day. But in Nevada more than half, maybe 60 percent, will vote early; in 2012, 60.9 percent of votes were cast early at polling places and another 8.4 percent were absentee.

“The problem is Dems running statewide will not be able to bank the firewall of votes in Clark County to hold off losses in rural and Northern Nevada,” Ralston says. “For example, they had a 25,000-vote lead after early voting in Clark four years ago. Right now, GOP has a slight lead. I have never seen that.”

Nevada Democrats are experiencing what a lot of Democrats across the country are finding — that without President Obama on the ballot, or a Republican figure to turn into a convenient bogeyman to their base, a lot of rank-and-file Democrats just aren’t that motivated to vote.

Ralston concludes with one other thought: Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s turnout machine in 2010 dispelled the forecast of the late polls showing Angle ahead. This year, he, his top staff, and his allied Super-PAC are way more focused on preserving his Democratic Senate majority than on helping Democrats in his home state.

The NRSC’s headache is an opportunity for Nevada Republicans.

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