Sue Lowden dialed voters one evening last week, sitting in her campaign headquarters at a table strewn with Styrofoam bowls of leftover spaghetti and paper plates of half-eaten cookies. A sign on the wall reminded call center volunteers of their main mission: "Retiring Harry Reid ... one phone call at a time."
"There's nothing like the personal touch. I got a few converts tonight," the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate said.
Meanwhile, Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle also rallied her troops in the final days before next Tuesday's primary. Volunteers at her Las Vegas headquarters listened as she did a live interview with conservative talk radio host Mark Levin. One volunteer brushed away tears, moved by Angle's message and momentum in the race.
"I can't let these people down," Angle, a former Reno assemblywoman, solemnly said.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Danny Tarkanian, another top candidate in the GOP race, went door-to-door in Summerlin with his wife, who pushed a baby carriage, and a young daughter who asked voters whether they "have any questions."
On Saturday, he wooed Asian-Americans in Chinatown at a dim sum shop, the Harbor Palace Seafood Restaurant. The smell of steaming pot stickers and egg rolls wafted through the air as he and other candidates moved from table to table asking for votes.
Just after Tarkanian left, Angle arrived, staying for more than two hours. The event was sponsored by the Asian American Coalition, which endorsed both Tarkanian and Angle when endorsement committee members split over whom to support. Lowden didn't respond to the group's request for an interview.
With GOP primary voters also split -- and one in 10 still undecided, a recent poll shows -- the campaigns are focused on getting out their identified voters and trying to swing the undecideds . Candidates and volunteers are making hundreds of thousands of phone calls to targeted Republicans, walking door to door, arms full of campaign literature and voter lists, all while hoping people watch their final ad pitches on radio and TV.
Angle is getting an extra boost. She's being helped by a series of ads and get-out-the-vote efforts by big-money backers: the fiscally conservative Club for Growth and Tea Party Express, which is enlisting its 350,000 members nationwide to "phone from home" and call Nevada voters for Angle. The group did the same to boost Scott Brown, helping the Republican win his Massachusetts Senate bid, stunning the political establishment in a year the Tea Party is testing its anti-big government power.
The Tea Party Express also plans a live, two-hour "radiothon" on Las Vegas station KXNT-AM, 840 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday "to raise Angle's profile in Clark County" and raise money for the final push.
Angle's campaign said it's grateful for the extra attention, but she's running on her record of opposing most taxes as a Nevada lawmaker and opposing excess government spending.
"Money can't buy love," said Jerry Stacy, spokesman for the Angle campaign, which isn't allowed to coordinate with the outside groups spending about $1 million to help her. "We've always been a grass-roots campaign. People are getting behind Sharron because they know she's the real deal."
Race leaders Angle and Lowden both see Tarkanian as a potential spoiler. He can siphon off votes from Angle in conservative rural Nevada and from Lowden in vote-rich Clark County, where the local businessman and former University of Nevada, Las Vegas, basketball star is as well known as Lowden, a prominent casino executive and ex-Las Vegas TV newscaster.
Another wildcard is the effect of the other Republicans in the race.
Las Vegas Assemblyman Chad Christensen is expected to peel away a few percentage points, especially from voters in his Mormon community and in his district.
Wall Street banker John Chachas, an Ely native who has spent more than $1.3 million of his own money to run, is picking up a few percentage points of support from Republicans who believe his argument that he's the best candidate to help bring back the dismal economy. Little-known U.S. Senate contender Gary Bernstein withdrew Monday and endorsed Chachas.
In the end, voter turnout is key to victory, although it's often low in midterm primaries. In 2006, statewide turnout was 30 percent --Â 27 percent in Clark County and 31 percent in Washoe County.
About 390,000 active Republicans are registered to vote, which means 117,000 people will cast ballots if turnout is 30 percent, and the GOP nomination could be won with 40,000 votes, more or less.
Low voter turnout would help Angle since her core conservative supporters in Northern and rural Nevada are more likely to go to the polls than moderates and casual voters who often wait until November, according to ground game experts inside the campaigns and outside analysts.
High voter turnout, particularly in Clark County, would likely bolster the chances of Lowden, who's trying to recover from her gaffe-induced drop in support over the past two months since she suggested people could barter for health care.
Tarkanian would benefit if there's low turnout in Clark County and if Angle is damaged by attacks from Lowden, who has portrayed the former assemblywoman as too conservative to beat Reid in the fall.
David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV, sees Angle as having the advantage now, both in momentum and in getting out the vote since she's known as a fire-in-the-belly campaigner, barely losing her 2006 race for Congress to Republican Rep. Dean Heller by about 400 votes, for example.
Damore noted that Tarkanian has lost his last two races, including for the statewide office of secretary of state. And Lowden has won only one race, in the early 1990s when she took out the Democratic leader of the state Senate, a shocking outcome that gave Republicans control of the upper house. She lost re-election two years later when the unions targeted her for defeat.
"Angle has no get-out-the-vote machine, but she's the more experienced campaigner," Damore said. "And really, it's the undecided voters who are going to decide this race. Angle is Mrs. Outsider, Mrs. Tea Party, which has some appeal this year. Lowden is the establishment. And Danny is door No. 3, if you don't want the far-right person and you don't want the establishment person."
A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey taken May 24-26 showed that 14 percent of Lowden supporters and 13 percent of Tarkanian voters said they might change their minds before primary Election Day, while only 8 percent of Angle backers said they might switch.
Angle spokesman Stacy said it's no fluke she came out of nowhere after winning the endorsements of three dozen conservative groups, including the national Tea Party Express on April 15, which catapulted her from 5 percent to 29 percent support and into a dead heat with Lowden at 30 percent. Much has to do with name recognition, now 85 percent, a 13-point jump from before the endorsement.
"I don't want to give up our game book. I would just as soon they think that we don't have a get-out-the-vote machine," Stacy said, refusing to reveal any details. "We do -- phone lists, phone banks, volunteers walking. Even Sharron's out there walking precincts. That's just Politics 101."
Tarkanian campaign manager Brian Seitchik said the campaign has a list of "thousands of supporters" who have said they'll vote for Tarkanian, although Seitchik wouldn't provide exact figures.
The campaign has more than 100 committed volunteers organizing get-out-the-vote efforts, including precinct walks, in all 17 Nevada counties, he said.
"I think we cast a wider net than Angle," Seitchik said of Tarkanian's efforts to gain support from typical conservatives, who turn out in force for Republican primaries, as well as more moderate voters.
Insiders in all the GOP campaigns said the primary is still a three-way race, but only in a low turnout model of about 115,000 voters, or just under 30 percent.
The Lowden campaign turnout model is higher, 36 percent, or about 140,000 GOP voters. And the Lowden team is hoping for a higher percentage turnout in Clark County than in Washoe County, which historically hasn't usually been the case. She's continuing to work rural Nevada, too.
So far, the Lowden campaign has tallied more than 250,000 voter contacts, and has collected thousands of signature cards from voters who have committed to Lowden since the fall, although the campaign would not say exactly how many have promised to back her on the ballot.
"We've been holding on to our core supporters, the people we're relying on to turn out and vote," Lowden campaign manager Robert Uithoven said. "So we've been making calls to people we've identified as undecided. We go back to them and ask them if they've made up their minds."
If they haven't, volunteers talk up Lowden, emphasizing her campaign theme that's she's a businesswoman with a "proven record of creating jobs," according to a one-page script volunteers use that includes shorthand summaries of her positions on issues from immigration to federal spending
Like the other candidates, Lowden has been making hundreds of callbacks herself, trying to make the final sell, working alongside volunteers at phone banks to "keep up morale," she said.
"I'm campaigning until the last minute. We're not letting up," said Lowden, who added that some voters she talks to remain undecided. "They're waiting. I'm not sure for what."
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.