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Obama camp considers Nevada a battleground state

DENVER — Democrats hope to win Nevada in November, but they don’t expect to run away with it.

Colorado, site of this week’s Democratic convention, and Nevada "are both going to be very, very close races," said David Plouffe, campaign manager for the man who will be crowned the party’s nominee on Thursday, Barack Obama. "I don’t see either (campaign) opening up a big lead there."

In a briefing for battleground state reporters Monday, Plouffe said Nevada is one of 14 states the Obama campaign expects will be ultra-competitive as the race goes down to the wire in the coming weeks.

Nevada, Plouffe said, is a state where the campaign believes it can significantly change the composition of the electorate from previous years by increasing turnout in key groups, especially women, young voters and Hispanics.

"Every national poll you see is based on the 2004 electorate," he said. "I guarantee you the electorate in 2008 will be changed in some fundamental ways."

The Obama campaign, he claimed, will benefit from voters’ greater enthusiasm for their candidate.

"It’s why George Bush won the 2004 election," he said. "He had the advantage in enthusiasm."

WAY OUT WEST

Setting this week’s convention in Denver was part of a push by Democrats to target the West. Nevada’s early caucus on Jan. 19 was part of the same effort.

In a briefing by the Western Majority Project, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar made a case that the region’s growth and its attitudes are making it fertile ground for Democratic gains.

Western voters, they said, are looking for pragmatism and quality-of-life concerns, and the voting patterns of the past — the region’s overwhelmingly Republican record, that is — might not apply in the future.

Napolitano pointed out that 25 percent of Arizona voters this November likely will never have seen that state’s senior senator, Republican nominee John McCain, on the ballot before.

"Every election is a new election," she said. "You can’t just depend on incumbency to win races anymore" in the West.

There are five Western states the Democrats hope to put in play in the near term: Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico. Four of those have elected new Democratic governors since 2000, when all were in Republican hands.

So what about Nevada? With no Democratic governor and no increase in the number of Democrats holding federal offices in recent years, is it the odd state out?

Pollster Andrew Myers, who presented a wealth of data on Western voters and their attitudes, indicated that from the Democratic point of view, Nevada is just behind the curve.

"Probably the most unpopular governor in the nation is currently the governor in Nevada," he said, adding, "We will take that governorship."

Democrats, he claimed, are poised to pick up one or two congressional seats and make headway in the state Legislature this year.

NECK AND NECK

A new Zogby poll of battleground states has Barack Obama and John McCain tied in Nevada. Obama pulled 39 percent of those polled and McCain 38 percent.

That’s in line with last week’s Reno Gazette-Journal poll that also had Obama up by one point. The latest Review-Journal poll, on the other hand, showed a lead for McCain, 46 percent to 39 percent.

Strikingly, the Zogby poll finds Libertarian candidate Bob Barr getting 10 percent of the vote in Nevada. If that holds, it confirms analysts’ speculation that Nevada’s libertarian bent could provide an opening, and a possible spoiler role, for the Libertarian Party.

That’s the second-highest number for Barr among the battlegrounds polled by Zogby, after another state noted for its libertarian spirit: New Hampshire, also known as the "Live Free or Die" state.

Independent candidate Ralph Nader also got 3 percent in Nevada in the Zogby poll. The Review-Journal poll, published Sunday, didn’t give respondents the option of third-party candidates.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com.

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