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Discontent favors GOP, but Democrats counter with voter sign-ups

The troops in their T-shirts assembled outside the Clark County Government Center on Monday morning as they prepared for the final push of a grueling campaign.

They represented a variety of constituencies from the Latino, African-American, Filipino/Asian and organized labor communities. Armed with stacks of completed voter registration forms, they assured skeptics they will make their voices heard in November.

Although it’s technically nonpartisan, volunteers with Mi Familia Vota and other organizations find themselves registering a lot of Democrats. Mi Familia Vota state Director Leo Murrieta announced his group had registered more than 14,000 mostly Hispanic voters and said, “We do it by going out into the community, making sure that all of our residents have the information that they’re entitled to: if they’re U.S. citizens, that they can vote and they can register. Our organization is here to make sure that they use that right and use that privilege.”

Two hours later, at Culinary union Local 226 headquarters on Commerce Street, a roomful of canvassers representing the 55,000-member labor organization wore red T-shirts that announced, “Together For Strength” on the front and “2012 Labor Vote” on the back. They hung on every word of Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor and cheered enthusiastically during U.S. Senate candidate Shelley Berkley’s stump speech. Berkley reminded all present that her dad was a Culinary union member and that she is a former cocktail waitress.

This is how Nevada’s Democrats plan to accomplish their goals in the 2012 election: Beef up voter registration into all demographic corners to offset the substantial headaches caused by 12 percent unemployment and a scandalized housing market – not to mention Team Romney’s increasing focus on its ground game.

If you thought the campaign season had been reduced to a nauseating air war between Democrats and Republicans, think again. Hundreds of millions of dollars in TV ads can’t register a single citizen and won’t drag a reluctant voter to the polls. For that, it takes troops.

Today is officially National Voter Registration Day, but strategists inside both parties have been working all year to identify new voters with a hope of increasing turnout.

Traditionally, Democrats have registered more voters but have been challenged to get them to the polls. Republicans in Nevada had lower voter registration gains but could boast of a higher percentage turnout than the opposition.

Starting in 2006 Nevada experienced a tectonic shift inside the parties. Backed by increased organization and financial investment led by Sen. Harry Reid, Democrats increased their registration numbers and the infrastructure of the party generally. That organization is a big reason Nevada Democrats enjoy a 60,000-voter registration advantage.

Republicans, meanwhile, have had difficulty controlling dissension in the ranks between fiscal conservatives, social conservatives and supporters of libertarian icon Ron Paul.

When Team Romney landed in Nevada, it had to build its own machine. While that organization has alienated some Nevada Republicans who believe it should also help serve down-ticket candidates, it appears to be accomplishing the formidable task of targeting independent voters and GOP cat herding on Romney’s behalf.

Team Romney spokesman Mason Harrison doesn’t flinch at the Democrats’ voter registration numbers.

“We feel very good about our voter registration activity to date,” Harrison said. “We’ve made significant headway. Our supporters are going to turn out at the end of the day. These folks are heavily motivated to change the leadership in Washington because they know that they’re not better off.”

With high joblessness and a road kill-flat housing market, the voter discontent favors the Republicans. But the Democrats believe they can out-register whatever losses they’ve suffered since the 2008 cycle.

Back at the union hall, Berkley embraced the roomful of red T-shirts and wasted little time with her rah-rah speech. Locked in a bruising race against Sen. Dean Heller, Berkley knows exactly what’s on the line between now and Nov. 6.

“I don’t want to hold you,” she implored the chanting crowd. “I want you out there knocking on doors.”

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith

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