Dems winning the registration race

When lawmakers redrew Nevada’s political boundaries in 2001, many “suburban” districts were considered safe bets for the GOP even though voter registration was at the time fairly even between the two major parties.

In fact, that legislative session was forced into overtime when then-state Sen. Jon Porter held out in an effort to add what he thought would be Republican growth spots to the newly created 3rd Congressional District, for which he planned to run.

Porter’s consultant, Mike Slanker, always viewed the 3rd District as a conservative-leaning, 50-50 district. Indeed, Porter handily won the seat in both 2002 and 2004.

But the conventional political wisdom may still be shifting in Nevada, which can now officially be put into the blue column — at least where voter registration is concerned. Nowhere is the Democratic increase in voters more evident than in Porter’s 3rd District and several swing legislative districts in Clark County.

On the eve of the 2006 election, which Porter won by just 1 percentage point, Democrats had a 2,000-voter edge. Now they enjoy a 5,500-voter edge. It’s no wonder the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is considering the 3rd District of Nevada to be the potential pickup seat in the Southwest in 2008. The committee is already priming the pump; independent expenditure groups aired anti-war commercials targeting Porter during the August recess.

Statewide, Nevada has essentially been a coin flip in the past four presidential cycles. Bill Clinton won narrowly in both 1992 and 1996, aided significantly the first time around by Ross Perot’s siphoning of GOP votes. George W. Bush won Nevada narrowly in both 2000 and 2004.

In voter registration, the two major parties have consistently been within 3 percentage points of each other over the past few years, but almost always favoring Republicans. Democrats held a slight voter registration edge on primary election day 2004, while Republicans had 7,000 more voters for the general.

The 5,700-voter edge for Democrats could either grow or be erased by the time the state votes next year. But it’s hard to imagine the legislative districts in Clark County turning on the whim of national candidates.

In fact, some safe Republican seats are becoming less so. State Senate District 5 in Henderson and District 6 in Summerlin are both held by Republicans, and both will be on the ballot next year. Republicans held a 4,000-voter edge in Senate 5 in 2004. Today, that edge is 2,100 voters. In Senate 6, a nearly 3,000-voter edge has shrunk to 1,600 in three years.

Some Assembly districts have actually flipped, but the movement in the two Senate seats is surprising because SD5 and SD6 were deemed “safe” Republican districts in the 2001 redistricting.

“It’s just truly dramatic and very encouraging,” said Lyndsey Jydstrup, state Democratic caucus director. “I believe this bodes very well for next year.” Jydstrup credits the increase in voter registration on Democratic presidential caucus organization. But long after the caucus, Democrats hope organizing each precinct helps them pick up a congressional seat or the one seat they need to retake the state Senate.

In the Assembly, where they need just one more seat for a veto-proof majority, there is potential for even more gain.

Assembly District 5, held by Republican Valerie Weber, now has its largest Democratic voter edge since Weber was first elected. There are 366 more Democrats than Republicans. In 2006, Democrats had a 75-voter edge.

Assembly District 29 in Henderson has always been a Republican district despite being won the past two cycles by Democrat Susan Gerhardt. Now Gerhardt actually has 260 more Democrats in the district.

Another Henderson district, AD21, is ebbing away from the GOP, although Republicans still outnumber Democrats by 1,400 voters. But that’s less than the 2,000-voter edge the GOP had in 2002.

It’s no wonder Garn Mabey, the Assembly’s minority leader in the 2007 session, is considering not even seeking re-election. Mabey’s leadership post was turned over to Heidi Gansert of Reno last Friday. While Mabey and his caucus had eyed taking out Democrats in so-called swing districts like the 29th or 10th, the growth of Democratic voters makes it more likely Gansert will have to focus on defending some of the few seats she’s got.

I bumped into one of those Republicans — Valerie Weber — earlier this week as she lunched with Democratic Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley.

It was probably legitimate policy business, but images of Jim Jeffords popped into my mind as I warned Weber about the wily Buckley.

Buckley just smiled at Weber and said: “Come over to our side. I’ll make you relevant.”

Erin Neff’s column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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