Nevada Republicans lay out 2012 election plans

Amy Tarkanian is seeing red.

The new chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party said Thursday the GOP is boosting efforts to raise money, register voters and recruit good candidates for the 2012 elections.

Her goal: to turn Nevada back into a GOP-leaning red state. Now, Democrats have the edge and Nevada hues blue.

"We’ve got a couple of seats we need to get back to make this state red," Tarkanian said in a call to reporters aimed at outlining Republican strategy in Nevada and nationwide.

Nevada is seen as a key battleground in a presidential election year. It’s split by party registration with Democrats holding a 65,000 voter registration edge at the end of June. In comparison, Democrats had a bigger advantage in 2008 — 100,000 registered voters — thanks to a drive to find tens of thousands of new voters to help Barack Obama win the presidency.

Tarkanian promised a similar all-out push during this election cycle to defeat Obama and to gain Republican voters to put more GOP candidates in office.

"We’re definitely going to be stepping up our game," said Tarkanian, who took over the party last month.

She said the Nevada GOP is coordinating with Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and the state Senate and Assembly caucuses. Republicans are hoping to gain a majority in the Senate, now narrowly controlled by Democrats, 11-10. And the GOP hopes to pick up seats in the Democratic-run Assembly.

Heck already has been targeted by the Democratic Party, which is trying to take back the U.S. House from Republicans. Heller faces a tough campaign to win the Senate seat after he was appointed to finish the term of U.S. Sen. John Ensign, who resigned amid scandal. U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., will likely be his general election opponent. And she has the strong backing of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who runs the state Democratic Party with an iron hand and has built it into one of the strongest get-out-the-vote machines in the country.

Tarkanian acknowledged there’s no GOP equivalent to Reid, who won re-election in 2010 thanks to the Democratic drive. But she said she expects Heller, Heck and Sandoval to play a larger role in helping raise money and reinvigorate the GOP. So far, Sandoval has played a behind the scenes role, although he is popular among core Republican groups. He also could help the party appeal to Hispanics and other Democratic-favored minority groups such as Asians and African-Americans that Tarkanian said Republicans plan to target as well.

"The grassroots love him," Tarkanian said of Sandoval, who is the state’s first Latino leader. "The party is very much behind him."

Zach Hudson, a spokesman for the Nevada Democratic Party, was skeptical Republicans could match the Democrats’ organizing efforts. He said his party is reviving its election machine to register voters and get people involved in the run-up to the 2012 election.

"We have a really strong grassroots network here and we’re absolutely staffing up and reactivating it," Hudson said.

In the short-term, Tarkanian said she is confident Republicans will hold on to Heller’s House seat in the 2nd Congressional District. Former state Sen. Mark Amodei, who was state party chairman, is the GOP nominee in the district where Republicans have a 31,000 voter registration advantage. State Treasurer Kate Marshall is the Democrats’ pick. The special election is scheduled for Sept. 13. The winner will represent the district covering all of Northern and rural Nevada and parts of Clark County. It has always been held by a Republican.

Nationally, Tarkanian said the state party is working closely with the Republican National Committee, which launched a new ad on Thursday. Running on national cable TV, it calls for a "change in direction" and slams Obama’s economic policies, saying unemployment and home foreclosure rates remain high.

"The 2012 election will come down to the president’s clear failure to lead on the economy and, because of it, he will lose. It’s that simple," Tarkanian said.

Obama has argued he inherited the economic recession and it would be a lot deeper if not for his $787 billion stimulus package and moves to shore up the auto and banking industries.

Obama won Nevada by 12 percentage points in 2008. The 2012 election is expected to be much closer and Republicans see Nevada as a swing state in play.

The RNC organized the effort by Tarkanian and GOP leaders in 13 states to promote its new ad and talk about efforts to build momentum heading into 2012. The RNC considers Obama vulnerable in the states: Nevada, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

"Nevada is a key battleground for us," said Ryan Mahoney, a regional spokesman for the RNC.
Mahoney said the RNC launched the ad with a light cable TV buy and may run it on local television stations in Nevada and elsewhere later.


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