ANALYSIS: The GOP’s Road To 51: Nevada

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This is the fourth in a series of articles looking at the races most likely to determine whether Republicans capture or Democrats hold the majority in the U.S. Senate after Election Day.

Perhaps we have this all wrong.

Perhaps a strong stand against illegal immigration does not mean a candidate needs to write off the Hispanic vote.  Perhaps citizens of Hispanic heritage have more important things to worry about than a candidate’s stance on immigration.  Perhaps they care more about education, jobs, taxes…the stuff voters in general worry about.  Perhaps many Hispanics in Nevada aren’t that worried about voting anyway.

If Hispanic voters don’t turn out in healthy numbers on Nov. 2, and if they don’t bring with them absolute rage about Republican candidate Sharron Angle’s support of the tough Arizona immigration law, then Majority Leader Harry Reid will be in big trouble in the Nevada Senate race.

We’ve recently seen polling data that suggest both that Hispanics are not obsessed with immigration policy and that Reid indeed is in big trouble.  A Pew Hispanic Center poll found that immigration policy “does not rank as a top voting issue for Hispanics” in 2010.  Rather, Hispanics gave top billing to education out of concern that their children have all the tools to pursue the American Dream.  Next came jobs, the economy, health care and the federal budget deficit — a list that could come from any demographic group.

Worse yet for Reid, only 45 percent of the more than 1,300 Hispanic voters contacted by Pew said they were registered to vote, and only about half of that number said they intended to participate in the upcoming election.  If the majority leader is banking his campaign on unwavering support and a big turnout among Hispanics, that check may bounce on him.

It’s not simply that Reid’s opponent got the immigration issue right in a state where unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies are the highest in the nation and where more than half the voting public — and, alarmingly for Reid, 52 percent of independents — believe illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from U.S. citizens.

It’s also that, after a rough start, Republican Sharron Angle has begun to hit her stride.  Her $14 million fundraising haul in the third quarter — bolstered by nationwide appeals to her many Tea Party backers — means she will have all the resources necessary to counter what Reid has promised will be the largest get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation in Silver State history.

Further complicating matters for Reid is that, as Senate Majority Leader, he is the face of big government and the chief enabler in Congress of the tax-and-spend Obama agenda.  “He considers [support for the Obama agenda] one of his accomplishments,” wrote Sherman Frederick, publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  “You can’t blame Obama for this reckless spending without holding Sen. Reid accountable.”

Still, it falls into the “believe-it-when-we-see-it” category that Nevadans truly will throw out a man who has risen to the top leadership position in the greatest deliberative body in the world.  The race is tight.  Political prognosticator Charlie Cook rates it a “Toss Up.”  The latest Review-Journal/8NewsNow survey shows Angle up by two, well within the margin of error.  And Nate Silver of The New York Times gives Angle a 55.7 percent chance of winning, according to an Oct. 13 modeling.

One key for Angle to maintain this advantage is down-ballot success, particularly for House candidates.  Rep. Dean Heller (NV-2), a Republican, should coast to victory in the conservative northern counties of Douglas, Lyon, Nye, Elko and Carson City.  A key battleground for Angle will be Washoe County, which includes Reno. Republicans only recently have edged ahead in voter registration in Washoe, the state’s second-largest county, and non-partisan voters could determine the outcome.

Angle also must hope for the success of the Republican candidate in the Third District who won’t even publicly declare he will vote for her over Reid.  Dr. Joe Heck, a physician taking on incumbent Democrat Dina Titus, keeps his distance in an effort to attract non-partisan voters to his camp.  Yet, for Angle to win, Heck’s supporters also must support her.  A victory for him and a respectable showing in the more populous southern areas of Nevada, Reid’s stronghold, should be enough to propel Angle to victory.

The Nevada race figures to be yet another battle won in the trenches.  Reid already has lined up 70 paid campaign staffers and more than 3,000 volunteers for his get-out-the-vote campaign.  Angle would be wise to use some of her huge third-quarter take — and whatever money she attracts between now and Election Day — to match Reid’s ground game.  If she can, there could be a new face from Nevada in the Senate and new direction in Washington.  If not, Reid could be well on his way to joining the Kennedy-Byrd lifetime tenure club in the Senate.

Ford O’Connell and Steve Pearson are the co-founders of ProjectVirginia and CivicForumPAC, and the co-creators of TurnNevadaRed.com.