Harry Reid’s improbable re-election in 2010 is giving Democrats hope for a repeat in 2012 at the Presidential level. The author, John Dickerson, is very good but I seriously question his statement that “Nevada is Obama’s to lose…” I’d like to know which ostensible “republican strategist” concurred with that whopper. Either way, Democrats hope lightening strikes twice and they can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat:
Nevada should be a state Barack Obama has no chance of winning. In an election about the state of the economy, no state has been harder hit. The unemployment rate is 11.6 percent, the highest in the nation. Sixty-one percent of the homes are worth less than the mortgage on them, also the highest in the nation. Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert, but everyone there is underwater. Still, Barack Obama has a shot in Nevada. He won Nevada by 12 points in 2008 and an average of polls right now shows the president ahead by 5 points (and perhaps more if you believe pollsters underestimate the Hispanic vote). Analysts in both parties say the state is the president’s to lose. Nevada is the most acute example of the key political dynamic in this election: The weight of a bad economy should sink the incumbent, but a combination of fortunate demographics and superior organization in the battleground states might rescue him in the end.
The economy in Nevada isn’t just bad, it’s broken. At the height of the boom in 2006, construction represented 12 percent of the workforce. Since the housing bubble burst, 90,000 construction jobs have been lost. Construction workers now represent only 4 percent of the workforce. No one expects the industry to return to earlier heights. Anyone who might want to swing a hammer in another state can’t leave, because they’d lose money on their house. In the first quarter of 2012, Nevada had the No. 1 foreclosure rate in the nation. The rate of debt to house value in Nevada is 114 percent. People aren’t just hurting, they’re imprisoned.
2010 vs 2012
Democrats have run that playbook before. In 2010, Harry Reid was supposed to lose. The economy was in even worse shape than it is today. As Senate majority leader, he was a perfect receptacle for people’s anger. In Reid’s Democratic primary, 10 percent of the members of his own party voted for “none of the above.” But Reid was lucky in his opponent. Sharron Angle, the unpredictable Tea Party candidate, was a bad campaigner and offered a range of zany proposals that Reid’s campaign could exploit. Obama’s strategists are relentless in framing the election as a choice. They have seized on Romney’s claim that the housing market needs to “hit bottom” before it can get healthy. Even some of Romney’ supporters found that comment insensitive to the local pain. The president, by contrast, in each of his visits to the state has come bearing federal help for the housing mess. The federal rescue has been tepid, but the president will argue that at least he’s fighting for people, instead of leaving them to the mercy of the market. (Obama has to make amends for some of his own past statements: “You don’t blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you’re trying to save for college,” he said in 2010, to the irritation of Sen. Reid and other officials in the city that relies so heavily on tourism.) Mitt Romney isn’t Sharron Angle. He is a far more disciplined and earthbound candidate, so it will be harder to demonize him. Sure, he may have gaffed now and again, but Angle’s gaffes were damaging because voters felt they exposed a fundamental extremism. It will be harder to caricature Romney that deeply.
Growing Hispanic vote
Harry Reid needed more than just a bad opponent, and Obama will too. The growing Hispanic population helps Obama in Nevada perhaps more than any other state. In 2008, 15 percent of the electorate was Hispanic. Nearly 2 million Latinos have turned 18 since then. In national polls, Obama leads Romney by as much as 40 percent among Hispanics. But turning Hispanic residents into Hispanic voters requires organization. Democrats in Nevada have been perfecting their machine for the last 10 years under Reid’s deliberate guidance. The Democrats in every battleground state boast about their team, but the Nevada operation is considered among the best of the best.
Making a list and checking it twice
The key for any party is building a strong list of supporters and possible supporters so you can target your efforts to the most persuadable and motivated voters. Reid convinced the Democratic Party to move the state’s caucus in 2008 to early in the process. That flushed out scores of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to support Obama and Clinton who then went on the list. If the list is maintained, it gets better with each election as the party adds more information to each person’s record: what issues they care about, what made them vote in previous cycles—a knock on the door, an email, or a phone call—and how much attention they needed to go to the polls. Sixty percent of Nevada’s voters vote in the two-week window before Election Day. The parties get a daily update of who has voted, so they know who on their list has cast a ballot and who needs more persuasion. In 2010, some Democratic voters got as many as 40 “touches,” the term used to describe any type of campaign-to-voter communication. Nevada Republicans are working hard to build their list too, but they haven’t been as organized over the last few elections as the Democrats have.