7 Days to Election Day: Nevada

In 2008, voter turnout in Nevada for the general election was below the national average; in fact, it was one of the lowest in the nation. Generally, this due to voter apathy and/or a lack of enthusiasm for either candidate. However, turnout in 2008 race was better than that in 2004. Turnout in 2012 is not expected to be as high as 2008 and this would favor Mitt Romney. Whether it is enough to propel to him victory in this state remains to be seen.

First, Nevada is not necessarily the blue state that many make it out to be. Clark county certainly has been Democratic for the past 30+ years, but moving out of that county, the state becomes decidedly more conservative. Second, there is a large Hispanic population; Hispanics are estimated to make up 25% of the population. Regardless, they are spread about the state and not concentrated in Clark county. Thus, Hispanics alone cannot account for the Democratic dominance of Clark county, but unions can. In 2008, Obama won by 121,000 votes out of over 980,000 cast. Most of that is attributable to a better-than-average (for a Democrat) performance in Clark county, but also winning Washoe county. If voter turnout is low in Clark county and Romney takes back Washoe county, then Romney has a better than even chance of winning back this state. Finally, there is a “no preference” line on the ballot. In 2008, that lever was hit 6,300 times- relatively low. It will be interesting to see those figures this time out regardless of who wins the race.

That being the case, the final tally should be very close. This writer believes that Obama, if he wins Nevada, will come nowhere near the 55% of the vote he received in 2008, possibly winning with less than 50% of the vote.

In the Senate race, Republican Dean Heller was appointed to fulfill the term of disgraced Senator John Ensign in 2010. Prior to that, Heller was a House member and secretary of state of Nevada before that. This year, he easily won his primary. In 2010, Republican leaders tried to recruit Heller to run against Harry Reid, but he declined and Sharron Angle went on to win the primary, but eventually lose to Reid. Heller declined to run against Reid since he realized he would have to depend on the Ensign organization to have any chance and he did not want to risk an association with the scandal-plagued ex-Senator.

Heller’s history should be to his advantage. As secretary of state, he was somewhat popular for his moderate views. In fact, he almost lost his 2006 bid in the primary battle for the House seat to Sharron Angle who accused him of not being conservative enough. That moderation, or even the perception of it, helps him with the moderate Democrats statewide, and with independents. He does not necessarily need to win Clark county to prevail, but only needs to do decent there.

Heller has had his share of run-ins with Reid. Most recently, he objected to Reid’s recommendation of Clark county judge Elissa Cadish to be a federal judge. Specifically, he objected to her stance on Second Amendment rights, but Reid nevertheless suggested her name to Obama who then nominated her. Heller blocked the nomination from even making it to the Judiciary Committee for consideration.

His opponent will be the current representative from the Fisrt District, Shelley Berkeley. This 7-term Congresswoman has not been in a competitive race in over a decade since she represents the heavily Democratic First District. To aid her effort- partly out of political desire to maintain control the Senate and partly as a payback against Heller over the Cadish nomination- Reid has loaned his organization to Berkeley’s efforts.

Four factors favor a Heller victory. First, he has positioned himself sufficiently as a moderate that will obviously win over independents while Republicans, who may not be exactly enthralled with his moderation, will nonetheless vote for him and not the liberal Berkeley. Second, although this is a presidential election year, turnout is expected to be below 2008 levels. Third, Berkeley’s ties to Reid will be a hindrance if Heller makes that case. Harry Reid is not particularly popular in his home state. His victory in 2010 was not necessarily an endorsement of Reid, but more a rejection of Angle precipitated by some miscues on her part. Even then, the “rejection” came close and threw a scare into Reid before his union allies got out the vote. As Heller has distanced himself from the scandalized Ensign, Berkeley has embraced the unpopular Reid. Fourth, Berkeley is embroiled in ethics allegations that her office used its influence to direct federal reimbursements to dialysis providers and a kidney transplant program run by her husband. For these reasons, I believe Heller will prevail in the end.

Nevada gains a seat in the House this decade as a result of the 2010 election. In the open 1st District, which is heavily Democratic, Dina Titus, who lost to Joe Heck in the Third District in 2010, is the favorite to win this race. Two races are of interest- the Third and Fourth Districts. In 2010, Joe Heck won the Third in surprising fashion and was a beneficiary of the GOP wave that year. He defeated Titus by only 1,200 votes in the end. Prior to redistricting, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans, but there was a large independent block of voters that pushed Heck over Titus. However, after redistricting, Republicans now slightly outnumber Democrats while the independents that propelled Heck to office remain largely the same. Heck won in 2010 with strong support of the business community, especially the Chamber of Commerce, and the Tea Party. He will face the outgoing state assembly speaker, John Oceguera. He has received heavy backing from the DNC who sense an opportunity here. However, because of his educational reform proposals in the state assembly, the powerful teacher’s union in Nevada has not endorsed him. He is portraying Heck as beholden to the Tea Party and special interests. In the end, Heck will win reelection.

The Fourth District is the new one. It will cover northern Clark county pushing towards Las Vegas. The district is 43% Hispanic and will feature a match between state senate majority leader Steve Horsford on the Democratic side against Danny Tarkanian on the GOP side. Tarkanian had to overcome a large field of primary opponents to get this far. Because of his father’s storied tenure as head basketball coach at UNLV, the Tarkanian name is well-known in Nevada. But, Danny Tarkanian’s electoral history is not necessarily one of success. He lost a state senate race in 2004, lost the race for secretary of state in 2006, and lost the Republican primary in 2010 to run against Reid. Additionally, this time out there have been complaints against his campaign with the FEC regarding unreported contributions. To add insult to injury, in May he lost a $17 million judgment regarding a real estate deal gone bad. Horsford was elected to the state senate in 2004 and became majority leader in 2008 becoming the first black to hold that position in Nevada history. His legislative history roughly mirrors the national agenda of Obama- throwing money at educational reform efforts, expansing Medicaid, green energy jobs, renewable energy investment, government intervention against home foreclosures, increased taxes on businesses, etc. Given Tarkanian’s electoral history, the demographic make up of the district, its proximity to the liberal, Democratic Las Vegas-based First District, and Tarkanian’s legal problems, it would appear that Horsford is headed to Washington.

The only question on the November ballot would provide for the legislature to hold special sessions if two-thirds of both houses- the senate and assembly- call for one.

In conclusion: Obama takes their 6 electoral votes while Dean Heller wins a close race against Berkeley. The current House delegation is 2-1 Republican and will be 2-2 on November 7th.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads with 243 electoral votes to 205 for Romney. Republicans lead in the Senate 47 to 41 and in the House 187 to 170.

Next: Colorado