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True blue Nevada

It’s far too soon to predict what might happen here in four months, when the state’s voters will help choose the next president. But the continued gains by Democrats in voter registrations bode exceptionally well for Barack Obama in Nevada.

The Obama campaign’s announcement Monday that the junior senator from Illinois will accept his party’s presidential nomination Aug. 28 at Denver’s Invesco Field at Mile High, with 75,000 people in attendance, is another sign of the bulk and weight of his movement.

George W. Bush had already pushed ahead with the Yucca Mountain Project and entered our troops into a no-win situation in Iraq when Nevadans supported his re-election four years ago. But something is happening this year. In a state where the past two presidential elections have gone to the Republican nominee by less than 3 percent, it’s more than notable that Democrats now have a 5 percent edge in registered voters.

CNN’s election map has Nevada colored yellow, a hue set by their so-called “best political team on television” to tease another down-to-the-wire election that will suck in the viewers. That designation belies the real truth on the ground here.

If you go by current polls in each of the 50 states, Obama has more than enough in his column to sail past the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. The heart of the campaign really hasn’t started beating, but unlike four years ago, when Democrat John Kerry was swiftboated into oblivion among his own base, Obama has already survived preachergate, bittergate, patriotismgate and his own skin color to lead the race.

Democrats are renowned for stealing defeat from the jaws of victory, but their continued growth in registered voters will help offset even a self-inflicted wound that costs them 2 to 3 percent of independent voters.

The past two presidential votes in Nevada were decided by 21,000 votes. If Republican John McCain were to equal Bush’s turnout in the rurals here (and that will be difficult given the problem social conservatives have with the Arizona senator), Democrats could easily overcome that 21,000.

In the past, the model for Democrats running statewide in Nevada was to win Clark County by enough to withstand sure-fire losses everywhere else. But Clark isn’t the only Democratic county anymore. Mineral County now has more Democrats than Republicans, and Washoe County, the state’s second-largest and home to Reno — is perilously close to turning blue. The difference between Republicans and Democrats in the 206,000-voter county is less than 6,000.

Even White Pine County, with its teeny voter rolls, will flip if Democrats can register 45 more people than the GOP does before Election Day. Nye County is also evening out.

Good luck with that rural “base,” Sen. McCain.

The real battle will be for the nonpartisans in the middle.

The 3rd Congressional District, where Democrats now lead in registration by 24,000 voters, has a whopping 56,000 independents.

Incumbent GOP Rep. Jon Porter may not have enough moderate fuel in the tank to withstand the changing demographics in his district and a November challenge from state Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas. Porter has raised $210,000 from oil and gas companies at a time when Southern Nevadans are plunking down $4.25 a gallon for petrol. And despite moving to the middle on just about everything, Porter also voted against cutting tax breaks for big energy companies on a renewable energy bill.

Voters may have seen Republican Jim Gibbons as the lesser of two evils in the 2006 gubernatorial race against Titus, but the governor’s handling of personal and public affairs has left many voters wondering why they didn’t go with the Democrat.

I’m sure it happens to her all the time, but the day after the Legislature’s recent special session ended, I was behind Titus in the security line at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The woman checking her ID told Titus, “I sure wish you would have won.” The voter registration gains by Democrats in the 3rd Congressional District may put those words into the mouths of Porter’s supporters this November.

Winning the registration game is only half of the battle. Keeping the voters and turning them out on Election Day is just as important.

For Democrats trying to win back control of the state Senate, the two key districts, 5 and 6, turned blue in February and haven’t looked back. In the Assembly, Democratic voter gains give Democrats a real chance to add one seat, in District 5. One seat gives Speaker Barbara Buckley a veto-proof supermajority.

Who knows what will happen in the state Senate? But for now, Nevada is about as blue as it can get.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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