In the swing state of Nevada, 45.8% of registered voters are Democrats, 37.3% are Republicans. If solidly blue California’s voter rolls parallel these numbers with 44% Democrats, and 35% Republicans, why is Nevada a toss up purple state? Nevadans are more likely to split tickets, and not vote along party lines consistently, up and down their ballots, than voters in other states. In 2010, for instance, 53.4% of Nevada voters chose Republican, Brian Sandoval, as their Governor, and 50.3% chose Democrat, Harry Reid, as their US Senator. This is the kind of cognitive dissonance that fascinates political scientists and frustrates partisans. Yet in Nevada, where Electoral College votes have gone to the GOP nominee in seven out of the last ten presidential cycles, there is reason to be optimistic the President will win Nevada in 2012 by doubling down on the voter targeting and contact strategies that helped deliver the state in 2008.
72% of the state’s population lives in Clark County, and this means the “ground game” will have a bigger impact on the electoral outcome than the battle to dominate the airwaves. Mitt Romney’s campaign and the several billionaire-backed, anti-Obama Super PACs are outspending the President and his allies, two to one. In Nevada, this means Radio La Kalle 99.3 FM listeners hear endless attacks on President Obama in Spanish, while KNTV ABC 13 viewers watch endless ads in English, painting Romney as the solution to any and all problems voters might fear. But Obama For America, the Democratic Party, and those organizations with field campaigns that support the President’s reelection, have been more successful in getting supporters to the polls during the Early Voting period, and are prepared to hold this lead once all absentee ballots and Election Day returns come in. 25% of Nevadans cast ballots in the first six days of early voting. As Reid Wilson writes in the National Journal:
“Republicans consistently run behind Democrats among early voters in Nevada. But the GOP has two firewalls: absentee voters, who tend to hail from rural, Republican-leaning counties in the state, and voters who turn up at the polls on Election Day. But in what could be a troubling sign for the GOP, early reports… suggest Democrats are even outperforming Republicans among voters casting an absentee ballot. Jon Ralston, the Nevada politics guru, reported that Democratic voters have turned in 52% of absentee ballots returned to Clark County, five points higher than their registration edge over Republicans.”
If early vote participation is up statewide and in Clark County, and it is: 64,370 more voters participated in this year’s first week of early voting than took part in the first week of early voting in 2008, and 68.8% of them were from Clark County, bumping up participation in the most reliably blue piece of electoral turf by nearly one half percent when compared to the last presidential cycle. These increases reflect Obama For America and the state’s Democratic Party ability to conduct voter registration and mobilization efforts that keep pace with population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Nevada’s overall population grew 35%, (from 2 million to 2.7 million) thanks largely to Latinos, who accounted for fully 46% of new residents. Today, 27% of Nevadans are Latino. In 2008, President Obama earned the support of 67% of Latino voters nationwide, but won the backing of 76% of Latino voters in Nevada. In 2010, Harry Reid earned the support of 9 out of 10 Latino voters. While the state’s Democrats, writ large, may dampen the coattail effect, and showcase an independent or libertarian streak by splitting tickets, Latino Nevadans overwhelmingly support President Obama and his Party. To quote Shane Goldmacher, “To win here, Romney does not need to carry the Latino vote. But he must limit Obama’s margin of victory.” Goldmacher’s analysis aligns with what I wrote in September, “Latinos: Romney Can’t Win Unless Your Vote is Suppressed or You Stay Home.”
On Friday, October 26, the Romney campaign sent an email to supporters announcing that it had, “119,000 devoted volunteers… made nearly 45 million voter contacts and crossed the 9 million doors knocked threshold” nationwide. It has also announced a national campaign called, “Expand The Map” determined to fundraise $7 million in seven days, and launched a social media effort centered around its “Commit To Mitt” Facebook app. But other than Spanish language media buys, there is little evidence Romney is actually working to engage Latinos on the ground in Nevada—despite having brought in around 600 out-of-state volunteers from Arizona and Utah to help them with their Early Vote efforts. And this is reflected in Latino Decisions polling, showing 78% support for President Obama, and only 17% support for the GOP nominee. Considering the GOP and its supporters did not noticeably react to the August NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, showing 0% support for Romney by African American voters, by aggressively reaching out to African Americans in September and October. It is safe to conclude that when Romney-Ryan Nevada, state manager, Chris Carr says, “underestimate [Romney’s ability to win] at your peril,” he means that he expects the GOP nominees advantage among white voters is insurmountable. As Gary Langer writes:
“Romney’s support among white men is its highest of the campaign, a 2-1 margin, 65-32 percent. That compares with 57-41%, McCain-Obama, in the 2008 exit poll. While it’s closer among white women, 53-44 percent, Romney-Obama, that very broad support among white men lifts Romney to a new high among whites overall, 59%… Obama beat John McCain among women in 2008 by 13 points, similar to his margin over Romney today. But McCain only tied Obama among men, a far cry from Romney’s large advantage in this group now.”
But the President’s reelection campaign has long believed that the key to victory in Nevada, and across the purple states that determine Electoral College winners, is a peer-to-peer engagement effort across constituencies, especially people of color and women. Politico’s Mike Allen has been tracking this effort, known as “Operation Vote,” for some time now. He’s labeled it the “campaign within the campaign.” Captained by 2008 campaign all-stars Buffy Wicks, and Michael Blake, Operation Vote began the process of engaging voters of color, women, and other core Democratic base voters one year ago, to counter the effects of diminishing support among centrist and conservative whites in battleground states where final results are almost always decided on the margins.
In Nevada, this means placing Obama For America field offices in African American and Latino enclaves, as well as right next door to the University of Nevada, Reno and UNLV campuses. BarackObama.com site visitors are not the only Nevadans who are familiar with the case the President has made regarding “what’s at stake in this election” for women, young Americans, and Latinos. On Wednesday, October 24, a crowd of over 13,000 gathered in Doolittle Park, in the heart of African American and Latino North Las Vegas, to hear these arguments from the President himself. On Friday, October 26, at least 1,000 more, members of Women For Obama, and Educators For Obama, heard them from the First Lady. One of the speakers who preceded Michelle Obama’s appearance at centrally located, Orr Middle School—walking distance from an official Early Vote location—was Latina, daughter of immigrants, former Hillary Clinton campaign superstar, current Nevada General Election Director, Emmy Ruiz. Another, Shelby Ayson, a 1st grade teacher at Las Vegas’ Bryant Elementary, whose remarks began, “In addition to my day job, I am the mother to four kids—a third grader, twin first graders, and a baby. So I really do spend all of my time with kids, and I am so lucky for it… I teach because I know that an education can serve us for our entire lifetime. For so many of us it’s the difference between whether or not we’ll have a fair shot to achieve our own American Dream.”
Before the final week of voter registration, well in excess of 11,000 Nevadans braved the punishing desert heat for an abridged Maná concert organized by the President’s reelection team to make sure as many eligible Latinos as possible would be able to register before the October 6 deadline. Many of those attending didn’t even know the President would be there, but were extremely excited when he arrived. On October 20, the first day of Early Vote in Nevada, hundreds joined Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz in Rafael Rivera Park, in predominantly Latino East Las Vegas, for a taquiza, mariachis, and a march to the polls to cast ballots. Three days later, National Reelection Campaign Co-Chair, Eva Longoria, drew hundreds of UNLV students, many of them Latino, for an on campus rally followed by a trip to vote early. In the last three days before Early Vote concludes, Obama For America will encourage Latinos to cast ballots at the Cardenas Market on Bonanza Road and Lamb Blvd.
Last Tuesday, (October 23) President Obama told the Des Moines Register, “Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
In 2010, 12% of registered voters in Nevada were Latino. Yet Latinos made up 16% of those casting ballots, a 13% increase since the 2006 Midterm Elections. By the time a Pew Hispanic poll became public on October 5, declaring that 50% of Latino registered voters were planning on skipping out on the 2010 Midterms, the voter registration deadline had passed most everywhere, but not in Nevada, where 10,223 Latino Nevadans registered to vote in Clark County alone. In 2010, 50% of Latino Nevadans took advantage of the Early Vote, thus making shorter Election Day lines at polling places possible, and the likelihood of rapid response to the vast majority of election protection issues probable. Latino Nevadans rejected racist, anti-immigrant, political statements and policy proposals. They also rejected campaigns championing abstention from electoral participation, attempts to convince them to stay home out of frustration. Nevada’s Latino voters showed up in record numbers, and outperformed other voters when it counted.
The GOP has forgotten this recent past, and is thus condemned to repeat it. President Obama does not need the stars to align or lightning to strike twice to carry the state. He just needs to keep getting Latino Nevadans to the polls.
Unai Montes-Irueste is a supporter of President Obama’s reelection campaign currently on the ground in Nevada.