Monday, September 3, 2012

How The West Will Be Won: How to Score in NV-04

Last week, we opened our new series on critical Western swing (Congressional) districts with a closer look at the always critical ground game in NV-03. Today, we're swinging north to Nevada's newest Congressional District. While this year may be NV-04's grand debut, it combines all the quintessential elements of Nevada's unique demographic and political landscape to create a different kind of swing district.

Below, we'll examine what had made Republicans so dominant throughout much of the district in the not too distant past... And why Democrats are feeling so upbeat about it now.

Perhaps the wildest surprise of the June primary was what happened in NV-04. While Danny Tarkanian managed to win the G-O-TEA primary, he faced a much stiffer challenge from State Senator Barbara Cegavske (R-Spring Valley) than most pundits had expected. And in perhaps the biggest blow to Baby Tark, his famous last name (his dad is the famed former UNLV
basketball coach, while he himself was a star UNLV basketball player in the early 1980s) fell flat in his home turf of Clark County! Oh yes, Cegavske actually narrowly won the Clark (Las Vegas Metro) part of the district, while Tarkanian ultimately had to count on outsized margins in the Rural Nevada part of the district to put him over the top.

So wait, how did this happen? Let me explain.

Redistricting meant Nevada was set to gain a Congressional District. And ultimately, that resulted in this rather unique district.

NV-04 is an interesting district in that it runs through all the cross sections of Nevada's topography and demography. It stretches from the tranquil rural confines of Yerington and Ely to the bustling urban atmosphere of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas. It includes hard hit, poverty stricken neighborhoods, like Pahrump, as well as Nevada's wealthiest neighborhoods, like Summerlin. It includes some of the whitest and some of the most minority-majority communities in the state. And despite the 10% Democratic voter registration advantage, it's a district that both parties are fighting for.

Although 85.2% of NV-04's registered voters reside in Clark County, the rural parts of the district have an outsized influence over the district. Why? They turn out in big numbers, while some of the Clark County areas (in particular, the poorer and minority-majority urban core of the district) tend to produce lower voter turnout. This turned out to be Danny Tarkanian's "Ace in the Hole" in the Republican Primary, and he's clearly hoping it will be his secret to success this fall.

However, there's a reason why Barack Obama (2008) and Harry Reid (2010) both won NV-04 handily. Just take a look above. There are more Democratic voters in the district. And as long as they turn out, Democrats win.

This is what really seems to scare Danny Tarkanian's campaign. After all, why else would Danny Tarkanian so cravenly and clumsily attempt to run away from his own "tea party" approved record? Even Baby Tark himself must be realizing that "TEA" won't be fueling any realistic win in NV-04.

So Steven Horsford has some challenges ahead of them, but they're certainly achievable. While the rural areas vote heavily, the numbers in Clark County are still far greater. Basically, as long as North Las Vegas and the urban core of Las Vegas turn out I'm large numbers, and as long as Horsford can at least keep it close in Summerlin and Northwest Las Vegas, he can win in November.

And that's pretty much how to score in NV-04.

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