Republicans turned out in slightly larger numbers than Democrats statewide during the first week of early voting, according to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.
The GOP turnout from Oct. 16 through Friday was 68,574 voters, or 16.7 percent of active registered Republicans in the state.
That compares to 68,449 Democrats for a turnout of 14.5 percent.
Voters registered as nonpartisan were showing up at the polls in healthy numbers, too: 24,346 in the first week for a turnout of 13.9 percent.
Typically, more than half of Nevadans take advantage of early voting, which ends Oct. 29, four days before the Nov. 2 election.
Turnout is key to victory in the race between U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic incumbent, and his GOP challenger Sharron Angle.
President Barack Obama visited Las Vegas to rally voters Friday night in hopes of driving up turnout, just two days after Vice President Joe Biden appeared with Reid in Reno to do the same. First Lady Michelle Obama is due back in Las Vegas on Nov. 1, the eve of the election, suggesting Democrats are worried the Senate majority leader is in danger of losing the close race that’s key to Obama’s agenda.
So, how to read the early returns?
Republicans generally have higher turnout in mid-term elections, so the first week of early voting isn’t that unusual. And more traditional Republicans often prefer to vote on Election Day.
Democrats, meanwhile, have a bigger statewide voter registration edge over the GOP, about 60,000 now.
That means that if both parties — and particularly Reid and Angle — turn out their base supporters and Republicans maintain their mid-term election edge, the independent voters could decide the outcome.
Heading into the election, polls showed Angle picking up more independents than Reid, although the gap had narrowed to 8 percentage points in the most recent Mason-Dixon poll this month.
Bottom line, the Reid-Angle race remains one of the closest in the country. And the outcome will likely come down to whether the Democrats’ voter turnout machine is up to the challenge of overcoming GOP energy and independent voter unhappiness with the poor state of the economy, especially in the hardest hit state of Nevada.
The Angle campaign was nearly giddy Saturday about the early voting trends and the GOP contender’s ability to far outraise Reid in the final weeks of the race.
"In a week when the majority leader brought both the vice president and the president of the United States to his state to help motivate the base, Republicans are still outperforming the Democrats at the polls," Angle communications director Jarrod Agen wrote in a campaign email. "No bounce from the two highest elected officials in the land."
The Reid campaign expressed confidence its get-out-the-vote effort would prevail and noted Democrats have turned in 2,000 more absentee ballots than Republicans, a figure not reflected yet in the overall vote totals. His campaign also criticized Angle for largely keeping a low profile and avoiding reporters, while Reid holds one public event after another with high-profile Democrats he needs to help put him over the top.
"Why won’t you give just one single press conference in each market and answer the questions you’ve been running from for months?" asked Reid campaign spokesman Kelly Steele in an email Saturday.
The Angle campaign believes its road to victory lies in staying competitive with Reid in Clark County, where he and the Democrats have a big advantage, and winning Washoe County, where she lives, and then picking up most of rural Nevada, where Reid’s popularity has plummeted and where Republicans outnumber Democrats in all counties except Mineral.
Here are first week early voting turnout figures for Nevada’s two largest counties:
-Democrat: 48,283 (14.4% turnout)
-Republican: 39,485 (16.2%)
-Nonpartisan: 16,431 (14%)
-Democrat: 12,173 (14.1%)
-Republican: 14,285 (16.4%)
-Nonpartisan: 4,202 (12.3%)