Monday, July 30, 2012

All About Reno

Every so often, Nevada Democrats may be lucky enough to get celebrities to come to Las Vegas to help with voter registration, but look at where the candidates are most often dueling it out. And look at where the consultants and media keep focusing their eyes.

President Barack Obama left town, Mitt Romney was due the next day, and just up the road from a billboard advising Nevadans to abandon their underwater homes, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity inflated a giant Uncle Sam. [...]

It is only midsummer, but in the swing county in a swing state, the presidential campaign is fully under way. The election here is a closely watched test of Obama's ability to repeat his victories four years ago in areas of the country still reeling from the recession.

Like elsewhere, the economy is the focus of the campaigns. On a wall in the Obama office hangs a chart suggesting the jobs outlook was even worse before Obama was elected, and Apple Inc. announced last month it will build a $1 billion data center here. [...]

In his convincing victory in Nevada in 2008, Obama became the first Democratic candidate for president to carry Washoe County since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

This year the county of about 425,000 people on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada is once again in play.

Make no mistake, Northern Nevada is back in the spotlight. Even though Clark County has over 70% of the state's population, Washoe County and the rurals have outsized turnout and can still make a big splash in statewide elections. And on top of that, Washoe just happens to have perhaps the hottest and most high-stakes Legislature race in the entire state. So really, there are several reasons why Reno is taking such a prominent role on the campaign trail this year.

So what's the state of play like? Honestly, it looks like both sides are very heavily engaged on the ground. When I visited Reno in March, Washoe Democrats were definitely revving up their engines and preparing to race. And since then, I've been hearing from the ground that they're staying awfully busy.

But then again, so are Washoe Republicans. In fact, that's the biggest reason why they've filed for divorce from the Nevada GOP. Long story short: They're functional, the state party is not, and they no longer want the state party's "Dysfunction Junction" (arriving directly from the Clark County Official Ron Paul Fan Club GOP) weighing them down.

And with so much happening on the ground, the campaigns are even more compelled to stay on top of it all. That's why Nevada Democrats don't mind seeing Barack Obama & Shelley Berkley get to know voters in Washoe County. And that's why Nevada Republicans are begging Mitt Romney to do the same.

Romney will return Friday for a major fundraiser put on by Reno entrepreneur/business owner Patty Wade. Donations to attend one of a handful of fundraising opportunities arranged by Wade range from $2,500 to $25,000.

In her email to prospective donors, Wade warns that this could be Romney’s last visit to Northern Nevada before the election.

“The national campaign has told us that this will likely be Gov. Romney’s only campaign appearance in Northern Nevada prior to the election in November,” Wade wrote.

Really, this is Romney’s last visit to Washoe County? It’s closed to the public, an exclusive gathering dominated by rich folk.

Sounds like a good way to lose Nevada, considering Washoe County is the battleground county in a battleground state.

However, there may be a strong reason why Mitt Romney may not return to Reno after this weekend. It's actually the reason Nevada Republicans fear the most. Frankly, Northern Nevada may not be all that fruitful for Mitt Romney any more.

Nonetheless, Nevada isn’t quite on the knife’s edge. Among the polling averages of the 11 states considered toss-ups under the most generous definition in 2012–Nevada, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and Missouri–Nevada has the second largest gap, at +5.2 percentage points for Obama. That’s reflected in campaign resource allocation as well. Despite consistent spending in the Silver State, the President’s campaign has directed more to states like Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia. American Crossroads, the Republican third-party group spending on Romney’s behalf while he awaits his party’s nomination, has spent more in almost every swing state than in Nevada.

None of which is to say Nevada’s six electoral college votes don’t matter, the state won’t be very closely contested or that Obama and Romney won’t be back in Washoe county before November. They probably will. Just don’t expect them to dawdle too long.

Actually, this is what no one in Washoe County likes to hear. Even if Washoe Republicans have their act together and Mitt Romney is at least holding his own in Reno, that may not even matter in the end as long as Nevada Democrats power up their field machine in Clark County. And as long as that's happening, gold medals may remain out of reach for Mitt Romney and Dean Heller... And perhaps Michael Roberson as well.

But at least for the time being, Reno is the epicenter of the electoral earthquake hitting Nevada now. We just have to wait and see who ultimately gets hurt by it.

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