No hidden message to be found in special election

As voters go to the polls in Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District special election today, they have nothing to lose. Except for the election. And that they will surely lose.

Early voting totals show registered Republicans have cast 53 percent of early and mail-in ballots, while Democrats have cast just 34 percent. Even in areas where Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district — such as Clark County — Republicans are outvoting their Democratic counterparts 50 percent to 33 percent. In Washoe County, where registration is almost even, it’s 49.3 percent to 38 percent.

And because Republicans outnumber Democrats in this district by 31,000 voters overall, it’s little wonder everybody’s calling this one for Republican former state Sen. Mark Amodei over Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall.

In fact, the only way this race would have been even remotely noteworthy is if Marshall won, or came close to winning, a feat no Democrat has managed since the district was created back in 1981.

But that ship sailed earlier this year, the day the state Supreme Court decided to limit ballot access to one Republican versus one Democrat rather than a “ballot royale.”

There will be, inevitably, those who attempt to say the results of today’s balloting bear some message or lesson for Democrats. Beware such pronouncements.

First, this is not a defeat for Nevada Democrats or the vaunted grass-roots turnout machine created by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. That turnout machine never revved up for Marshall, perhaps because nobody knows better than Reid what campaigning in the rural parts of Nevada is like. Reid also knows much better than to fight a fight he won’t win.

Second, it’s not a defeat for national Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t put money into Marshall’s race, mostly because it knew her chance of victory outside the “ballot royale” was slim. (Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee pumped about $600,000 into the race, and Republican-leaning groups donated even more. Nervous much?)

Third, it’s not even a defeat for Democratic ideals. Aside from her positions on Medicare and health care reform, Marshall didn’t even run on a Democratic platform. Instead, she mostly chose to attack Amodei from the right, noting his past support for tax increases. In the low point of the campaign, Marshall allowed that she’d have voted in 2003 with the likes of ex-Assemblywoman Sharron Angle against a tax plan that was the only hope to open Nevada’s schools on time.

By choosing to make this special election into a Republican primary rather than a stand-up general election race pitting the GOP philosophy against the Democratic one, Marshall avoided making this race anything resembling a bellwether on the issues. That may explain in part why Democrats never really got excited about her candidacy.

In fact, the only real lesson we may draw is the reinforcement of this old saw: If Republican voters are given a choice between a real Republican and a conservative-talking Democrat trying to impersonate one, they’ll usually opt for the genuine article.

Marshall’s only remaining goal at this point should be to pray she garners enough votes to be competitive with former Regent Nancy Price (who took 32 percent against Republican Dean Heller last year). If she’s very fortunate, she may reach numbers posted by Jill Derby (45 percent against Heller in 2006 and 41 percent in 2008).

But there’s also this silver lining: In one of her odder remarks, Marshall claimed to have steered the ship of state through the recession with a “steady hand.” Well, her term isn’t up until 2014, so — good news! — she can continue steadily steering until then. We all win!


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog Follow him on Twitter at or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@

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