CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the midst of a cheering crowd of Democrats, Roberta Lange had to yell to be heard above the din in the arena where President Barack Obama would take the stage Thursday night before hitting the trail for the last 60 days of his last campaign.
“We are so united,” said Lange, chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. “We had this much enthusiasm in 2008. We’re not the Republicans. They have one candidate, but I don’t think they’re all behind Mitt” Romney.
Nevada Democrats and the Obama campaign were leaving their three-day convention in Charlotte with a confident swagger, saying the energizing event put the president on a solid path to re-election Nov. 6 as the favorite to win the Silver State and other battlegrounds.
“We feel great about the convention,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said after talking to Nevada delegates Thursday morning to pump them up for the final push. “I feel great about the choices we laid out and about where we are and where we need to go.”
The Romney campaign is just as confident the Republican will be able to make the case to voters in Nevada and beyond that four more years of Obama means four more years of economic pain.
“There are very few people in the state of Nevada who can say they’re better off today than they were four years ago,” said Rich Beeson, political director for Romney’s campaign. “The truth of the matter is we’re in the game in Nevada. I’m very bullish on Nevada.”
After back-to-back nominating conventions – this week in Charlotte for the Democrats and last week in Tampa, Fla., for the Republicans – the candidates are running neck and neck nationally and are close in eight key states that will decide the White House race, including Nevada.
The pace of the fight for Nevada quickly heated up with the conventions coming to an end.
Obama’s campaign announced that he would hold a “grass-roots” event in Las Vegas on Wednesday. And Romney’s campaign said he would return to the state soon.
Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is set to campaign today at a trucking facility in Sparks. It’s Ryan’s second visit to the state since Aug. 14, when Romney announced he would share the GOP ticket.
The candidates have precious little time to break away and attract the small slice of undecided voters in an election where most Democrats are solidly behind Obama and most Republicans are coalescing around Romney after a GOP primary season that left a few scars.
In Nevada, a small GOP faction that worked tirelessly to nominate Texas Congressman Ron Paul has split from the party, leaving the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee in charge of get-out-the-vote efforts .
The GOP turmoil has given Democrats in Nevada a running head start in organizing. The party has a 56,000 registered voter advantage over Republicans statewide. Four years ago, Democrats ran up the edge to 100,000, helping Obama win an easy victory over U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by 12 percentage points. This year, the race is expected to be much closer.
With only six weeks left before early voting starts on Oct. 20 in Nevada, Republicans need major voter registration gains to keep the presidential contest competitive, said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“If they’re not turning things around by next month, then game over,” he said.
As challenger, Romney can break out in the race if he does well in the October debates, perhaps by offering more specific prescriptions for reviving the economy, Herzik said.
The presidential debates are scheduled for Oct. 3, Oct. 16 and Oct. 22.
One vice presidential debate on Oct. 11 will pit Vice President Joe Biden against Ryan, architect of a GOP budget that would reform Medicare for future retirees and that Democrats oppose.
“The race can change, but that time frame for change is shrinking,” said Herzik, who said the contest is so tight a big gaffe could swing it, too. “I think Romney is vulnerable in debate if he comes across as wooden. He’s got more to gain. On the flip side, he’s got more to lose.”
The state of the economy will play the primary role in the race. A jobs report is due today, and there will be two more monthly reports before Election Day, including one on Nov. 2. National unemployment is at 8.3 percent and is 12 percent in Nevada, the highest rate in the nation.
Obama, in his convention speech, asked for more time to fully revive the economy and jobs.
“Our path is harder, but it leads to a better place,” the president said . “And I’m asking you to choose that future.”
Obama set goals, including creation of 1 million jobs in manufacturing by the end of 2016 and reducing the deficit by $4 trillion in the next decade. He said he already has created 4.5 million private sector jobs in the past 29 months after the economy lost more than 8 million.
Romney has set a goal of creating 12 million jobs in his first term and has said he wants to keep taxes predictable and low and reduce regulation to help the private sector thrive.
“The question is, which one of these two candidates will bring the economy back,” said Beeson, Romney’s political director.
Coming out of the convention, Messina said, the campaign accomplished three things it set out to do to make the case to voters across America for giving Obama a second term.
First, Messina said, Democrats demonstrated “the strong leadership the president showed to stop a second Great Depression” after he took office during a deep economic dive. He said Obama saved the auto industry, shored up collapsing banks and passed a $787 billion stimulus to prevent more people from losing jobs.
Former President Bill Clinton, in a much-praised address to the convention Wednesday night, “testified to that better than anyone could,” Messina said.
Second, he said, the convention presented a clear choice between Obama and Romney, who Democrats say wants to return to the failed GOP policies of the Bush administration.
Third, Messina said Obama told the country how he would rebuild the economy and the middle class.
Messina said he is confident of an Obama victory, although he said Nevada will remain close.
“We have a huge advantage in Nevada,” Messina told the state’s delegates. “The Republicans in Nevada don’t have a ground operation.”
Obama has a cadre of longtime volunteers such as Loretta Harper, a co-chairwoman of his campaign in Nevada. She eats, sleeps and dreams the re-election effort.
“We have to wake up every day and think what do we have to do to get Obama elected,” said Harper, who wore red, white and blue and Obama regalia on the convention floor. “He said he can’t fix things in just four years. He’s not changing direction. He’s just moving forward.”
Contact reporter Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.
com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.