CARSON CITY — Based on the statistics, the November election is not the best time to be running for state Assembly as a Republican.
Take Assembly District 13. Assemblyman Chad Christensen, R-Las Vegas, won by 10 percentage points two years ago when there were 4,200 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district.
Today there are 1,800 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Christensen’s district. And Democratic candidate Andrew Martin has raised $22,000 more in contributions than Christensen, who is seeking a fifth term in the Legislature.
"I feel very confident about winning," said Martin, a certified public accountant. "Doors are not being slammed in my face even when I walk up to Republican households."
Christensen did not respond to attempts for comment.
The change in statewide registration over the past two years has been sizable. On Election Day in 2006, Republicans held a 6,998-voter edge over Democrats.
Today there are 1,656 fewer Republicans registered to vote in Nevada than at the time of the election in 2006, as Democrats have surged to a 60,670 edge over the GOP in registered voters.
State Republican Party Executive Director Zachary Moyle acknowledges his party has a "registration problem," but he points out the party is running GOP candidates for all 42 Assembly seats.
Two years ago the party was criticized when it failed to field candidates in 12 Assembly races.
"We worked hard on candidate recruitment," Moyle said. "We took some heat in 2006 for our vacancies. In the end, we know our voters will turn out on Election Day, and that is what it is all about."
State Democratic Chairman Sam Lieberman predicts the Democratic registration push will lead to additional victories by Democratic Assembly candidates this November.
"They are motivated to vote. You are going to see a lot of Democratic victories, expected and unexpected," he said.
Democrats now hold a 27-15 member advantage over Republicans in the Assembly.
Lieberman’s goal is to help give Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, at least a 2-1 advantage after November’s general election.
He attributes the voter surge in part to the Democratic presidential caucus in January, which induced younger people to register to support presidential candidates Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
But the higher registration numbers might not translate into victories. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll and a Review-Journal poll in June showed Republican presidential candidate John McCain winning over Obama in Nevada by a couple of percentage points.
More than the presidential race, Lieberman said, Nevadans are dissatisfied with the performance of Gov. Jim Gibbons and the declining state economy.
A Review-Journal poll in June found that only one in five people thought Gibbons was doing a good job as governor.
"The governor has not showed the leadership people hoped for or expected," Lieberman said. "People are worried about health care and foreclosures, things they heard about in the media in the past but now are affecting them and their neighbors."
Fred Lokken, a professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said Gibbons has done no campaigning for Republican legislative candidates because they figure it would be a liability to have his support. Lokken is a Republican.
Gibbons’ press secretary, Ben Kieckhefer, said it is not surprising that the governor and others in leadership positions are not popular with potential voters.
"When the economy sours, the people in charge are seen as the culprit," he said. "Look at the approval rating of Congress."
Gibbons is not taking an active role this fall in any campaigns, Kieckhefer added, although Republican candidates have asked him for his endorsement.
Kieckhefer declined to identify the candidates, saying he does not know whether they have mentioned the endorsement yet.
A shift in Democratic voter registration is being seen even in traditional Republican strongholds such as Douglas County.
Republicans there held a better than 2-1 advantage in registered voters two years ago. Today they still hold a good lead over Democrats, but 1,587 fewer Republicans are registered to vote in Douglas County compared with two years ago. For the first time in 16 years, a Democratic primary was held there this summer.
Democratic gains have been tracked in Assembly districts 5 and 29 in Clark County, which have become predominantly Democratic after being nearly even in registrations with Republicans two years ago.
Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, concedes her party finds itself in a "challenging environment."
"But we have strong incumbents and candidates, and we hope to keep our incumbents and win additional seats," she said.
When people vote for Assembly candidates, Gansert said, they cast their ballots on "the community and local politics," not on national matters.
She expects Christensen will keep his seat. Gansert also anticipates former Secretary of State Cheryl Lau can beat Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell in Carson City’s Assembly District 40.
It’s traditional that a higher percentage of registered Republicans vote than registered Democrats.
But Lokken said Republicans should not count on a low turnout of Democratic voters this November.
If Obama makes no mistakes in debates with McCain, Lokken said, there could be a coattail effect and Democratic legislative candidates could be helped.
"The tide is changing here," Lokken said. "It’s the whole Obama thing. When people get excited about a candidate, they vote."
Contact Review-Journal Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at 775-687-3901 or email@example.com