Early voting makes Nevada special election a free-for-all

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Early voting in the special election in Nevada’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District begins Saturday. And in a little-watched race where getting voters to the polls is half the battle, both sides are hoping to make early votes count.

Typically, about half of Nevadans vote before election day, according to University of Nevada, Reno political science professor Eric Herzik, so the weeks before Election Day provide a rich source of potential votes for both sides.

The caveat with that is that CD-2 is a large district that encompasses many rural areas, and “rural residents often don’t vote early at the same levels of urban residents,” said Herzik. As a result, the votes cast could be indicative of which direction the race is leaning.

“Given that the rural [voters] are more Republican, something to look for is whether more Republicans vote early than Democrats,” he explained. “If that is the case, then Marshall’s uphill climb gets tougher.”

Republicans have a voter registration advantage in the district, making Mark Amodei, the Republican candidate, the favorite. But experts say the race is likely to be closer than that registration would suggest.

“I believe that the results are going to be much more narrow than the polling because there is so little interest in the race, and there is so little activity on the part of the campaigns,” said one Republican political consultant.

“Turnout is THE factor in the race,” Herzik wrote to TheDC. “There isn’t overwhelming interest in the race, and many voters are more occupied with the end of summer and the start of school. Both parties know this and have organized get-out-the-vote efforts. Democrats obviously need a strong get-out-the-vote effort to negate the large advantage Republicans hold in total number of registered voters.”

That factor could negate Republicans’ advantage, if Democrats can effectively get their base to vote.

“In low turnout, it is all based on who shows up,” said the consultant. “So who is better equipped to turn out their voters?”

Both Democrats and Republicans make that claim.

“Part of our plan all along has been centered around voter identification and awareness plans that would be then be the precursor to a very aggressive get-out-the-vote plan,” said Amodei communications director Peter DeMarco. “Early voting in Nevada is becoming more and more popular … and especially in a race like this, where it’s a special election and turn out could be lower than usual, it makes it even more important to get your voters to the polls as quickly as possible.”

DeMarco said the Amodei campaign was employing “necessary tactics to identify and communicate with likely voters.”

Democrats are generally considered to have a more impressive ground operation in Nevada than Republicans. The so-called ‘political machine’ orchestrated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is particularly legendary. But DeMarco argued that the rural parts of CD-2 would make it hard for that organization to operate all that effectively.

Democrats disagree. James Hallinan, Marshall’s communications director, said the campaign has a “very targeted and strong field program,” adding that “Democrats are very, very good at getting our folks to the polls.”

Hallinan pointed to the fact that the campaign had 720 volunteers working on voter contact, who by last week had made contact with 100,000 potential voters. The important part, he said, was making sure voters knew the logistics of voting.

“The easy part is getting them to vote for Kate. The part that we’re spending a lot of time on is making sure they know when the election is,” when early voting starts, and where and when they can go to the polls.

Outside observers, though, are not necessarily seeing evidence of these impressive voter turnout operations from either side.

“There has been no evidence of a massive ground game in CD-2, so it’s difficult to tell if a three week push is really going to benefit [Marshall],” said the strategist. “Amodei has had a very subdued campaign and has not distinguished himself in any great way so they are depending on outside organizations for their turnout.”

American Crossroads announced on Thursday that it has put $250,000 into the race in support of Amodei, and that part of those funds would go toward get-out-the-vote efforts. The group directs people to a website containing information about when and where Nevadans can go to cast their vote in the CD-2 race.

Two public polls show Amodei him in the lead, though they differ on his margin.

A poll conducted by Magellan Mapping and Data on behalf of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, found Amodei leading by 13 percent — 48 percent to 35 percent — a split that did not bode well for Marshall. But a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for The Daily Kos and SEIU, both liberal stakeholders,  calls it a one-point race, with Marshall trailing Amodei 42–43.

Amodei dismissed the PPP poll, noting that his campaign’s own internal polling showed similar results to the Magellan poll.

Herzik concurred that that “The Magellan Poll seems to be more credible. While paid for by a conservative group, Magellan is independent. I would also say it tracks more with how this district has voted in the past … Democrats have NEVER run that close in CD 2,” he wrote in an email to TheDC.

A Republican insider noted that the fact that American Crossroads was putting money into the race probably meant that its internal polling showed the race was a favorable investment.

Others, however, have noted that the high level of involvement of Republican groups — especially the National Republican Congressional Committee — and the large amount of money spent demonstrates that Republicans are nervous about losing the seat.

No outside groups on the left, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, have yet made any forays into the race.

The special election is being held to fill the seat vacated by Dean Heller, who was appointed to the Senate by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval when former Sen. John Ensign resigned. Early voting begins Saturday. Election day is September 13.