If early-voting turnout figures are any indication, Nevada’s Democrats are in the process of getting stomped in this election.
According to the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, 76,441 Republicans have turned out to vote thus far, compared to 61,640 Democrats. That’s a real-person voter advantage of 14,801 for the GOP, which is outpolling Democrats 46 percent to 37 percent.
When you consider that Democrats outnumber Republicans in active-voter registration statewide 39.7 percent to 34.6 percent, those numbers are especially bad for the Democrats. In terms of real people, Democrats have 62,036 more active registered voters than Republicans.
So where are they? Why aren’t Democrats showing up? Here’s a few reasons to consider:
1.) There’s no draw. This is the perfect-storm election for ennui, with no presidential race, no U.S. Senate race, a relatively lopsided congressional contest in the 3rd Congressional District and a slam-dunk governor’s race at the top of the ticket. When the highest-profile races are lieutenant governor and attorney general, there’s not a lot to draw people to the polls. And while it’s important to keep in mind that politics is our civic duty and not entertainment, the reality is people must still be given a reason to turn out and vote.
One thing that might have changed the dynamics: A Tick Segerblom for governor campaign! The Las Vegas Democratic state senator wanted to run for the top office, knowing full well he’d probably be defeated by popular Republican incumbent Gov. Brian Sandoval. But the point wasn’t so much to win as it was to give voice to a Democratic agenda, and as one of the few progressives in the state, he could have done it. But the powers-that-be said no, and the actual Democratic field was so bad that no one — literally, no one, i.e. “none of these candidates” — won the primary. That’s not exactly a prescription for voter excitement.
2.) Contests that went bust. My colleague Jon Ralston has already gone on at length about why he’s disappointed in the lieutenant governor’s race, the de-facto top of the ticket statewide contest this year. But I would highlight a couple points: While Democratic nominee Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and Republican nominee state Sen. Mark Hutchison disagree on some issues, they actually agree on some of the biggest. For example, they both oppose The Education Initiative, and, now that they’re both statewide candidates, they both oppose a mining tax that Republicans stood behind in 2013. And the biggest issue in the race thus far has become how neither candidate filled out disclosure forms properly.
Not only that, but the 3rd Congressional District race also bottomed out quickly, with Democratic nominee Erin Bilbray labeling her Republican opponent, Rep. Joe Heck “un-American” in a disastrous first TV interview. Bilbray has also taken to complaining about garden-variety political moves such as Heck calling her a “liberal political consultant” in a fundraising letter or Heck supporters trying to persuade Bilbray neighbors to let them put up Heck lawn signs in her neighborhood. When the candidates talk issues — as they did during a VegasPBS debate I co-hosted — their contrasts become clear.
3.) Reid machine occupied with other matters. You know, like making sure the U.S. Senate doesn’t fall into the hands of Republicans. It’s been a tough year for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, defending Democratic seats in an election where Congress’ approval ratings are just barely above Ebola. It’s not that Reid can’t multi-task; it’s that he can’t be everywhere, doing everything. Besides, he’s not Lance Burton: He can’t transform a lackluster election cycle into an exciting one with the wave of his hand.
4.) Republicans running as Democrats. If you can’t beat them, join them! That’s precisely what state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson did, running his own campaign, and two others, along Democratic lines. Mailers in Senate District 20 (Roberson’s seat) and District 9 (where Republican attorney Becky Harris faces incumbent state Sen. Justin Jones) are almost identical, and highlight the candidates’ desire to fight for more education funding, health care and for a tax on the mining industry. Roberson and Harris aren’t “typical Republicans,” the fliers say. They’re sure not: They’re Republicans who are running on Democratic issues!
Of course, the moderate Republican image doesn’t necessarily live up to the reality: Harris campaigned for the state’s gay marriage ban in 2000 and 2002, and remains opposed to same-sex unions. Roberson voted for the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act in the 2013 Legislature, and has publicly questioned whether women are actually subject to pay disparities in the workplace.
Combine that with taking a page from the Democratic 2008 playbook, where the party ran two subpar candidates in a stealth campaign that avoided debates, but which led to two strong Republican incumbents losing in a wave led by President Barack Obama. Well, turnabout is fair play, and now Democrats may lose in a year when Obama isn’t as popular as he once was.
5.) Everybody’s against The Education Initiative. In a normal year, a business tax to support education would have been a sure-fire turnout magnet for Democrats. But it turns out, most every Democrat in the state is against it. (Segerblom is one exception, another reason he’d have been a great choice for a gubernatorial bid.) Flores is against it. Democratic state controller nominee Andrew Martin is against it, as is Democratic nominee for state treasurer, Kim Wallin. Many other Democratic candidates won’t say if they’re for it or against it. And labor unions, most particularly the Culinary Local 226 and the AFL-CIO, are against it.
There are still some Democrats who will turn out to vote for The Education Initiative, which will appear on the ballot as Question 3. But not nearly as many as there could have been, had almost the entire slate of elected Democrats run from it like a vampire from sunlight. Meanwhile, Republicans are highly motivated to come to the polls and defeat the Education Initiative.
There’s still a week to go before early voting ends, and then there’s Election Day. But if the trend that’s been established up until now continues, and Democrats continue to shy away from the polls, the Carson City of 2015 could look radically different than it did just two years ago.