CARSON CITY – With the Nevada campaign season kicking into high gear in the four weeks remaining before election day, candidates and their supporters are also starting to focus on what could mean the difference between victory and defeat: voter turnout.
Both those running for office and political observers agree that many of Nevada’s races could be close, particularly the U.S. Senate race pitting Harry Reid against GOP challenger Sharron Angle.
Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., predicted a few weeks ago the Reid-Angle race will be determined by as few as 5,000 votes.
There are also concerns about who or “what” will draw votes in some races. In statewide races in Nevada, voters can opt for “none of these candidates.” Disaffected voters could opt for this choice in the U.S. Senate race, or for governor and the other constitutional officers.
And unless a pending legal challenge is successful, Nevadans will also be able to vote for Nevada Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian.
Some Republicans have expressed concerns that both of these options could spell trouble for Angle in her bid to defeat the Senate Majority leader.
So get-out-the-vote efforts are under way in earnest with early voting set to begin in just about two weeks. Nearly 60 percent of those who voted in the 2008 general election in Nevada chose to vote early rather than on election day. Early voting runs from Oct. 16 to Oct. 29.
The Clark County Republican Party is actively recruiting more precinct captains to help walk in gated communities, as well as volunteers to help with phone banking.
“We have less than three weeks until early voting begins, and we need to reach as many of the Clark County voters as possible before October 16,” said an email from county Chairman Frank Ricotta.
Democrats are working to get out the vote as well. The Reid campaign is urging all Democrats to be sure to register to vote. Saturday was the deadline for voters to register online in Clark County or by mail statewide, but voters have until Oct. 12 to register in person.
“Time is running out, and it’s crucial to make sure our fellow Democrats are registered to vote,” the Reid campaign said.
Democrats are working the phone banks as well. On Friday, Lilly Ledbetter, the namesake of an equal pay measure signed into law by President Obama in 2009, made calls on behalf of Reid in Sparks.
While the Reid-Angle race is garnering the most attention, both parties are working hard in other races as well, particularly in state legislative contests where there is much at stake.
In the Assembly, Democrats now have a veto-proof 28-14 majority, and they are seeking to hold on to that advantage. Republicans want to pick up at least one seat to give then 15 votes, enough to block a tax increase or veto override.
In the Senate, Democrats are seeking to strengthen their majority of 12 to 14 where they too would hold a veto-proof majority. Republicans are seeking to hold on to their existing seats and pick up one more.
With a huge budget challenge and the potential for new taxes, as well as the once-a-decade process of drawing new political boundaries, major issues will confront lawmakers in the upcoming 2011 legislative session.
Turnover in the state Legislature will also be significant as term limits have kicked in for many incumbents. The Senate will see at least nine new members and the Assembly, 20.
Seats where Republicans see a chance to pick up a seat and that Democrats want to retain include: Assembly District 5, now held by freshman Democrat Marilyn Dondero Loop; District 10, now held by Democrat Joe Hogan; District 21, held by freshman Democrat Ellen Spiegel; District 29, held by freshman Democrat April Mastroluca; District 40, an open seat in Carson City; and the Clark Senate 5 seat held by freshman Democrat Joyce Woodhouse.
Seats Republicans hope to hold onto, and where Democrats see a chance for a pickup include: Assembly District 13, an open seat formerly held by Republican Chad Christensen; District 23, held by freshman Republican Melissa Woodbury; Clark Senate 8, held by Republican Barbara Cegavske; and Clark Senate 9, an open seat formerly held by Republican Dennis Nolan.
Nolan was defeated in the GOP primary in June by primary challenger Elizabeth Halseth, who now faces Democrat Benny Yerushalmi. Nolan was one of only 19 state Senate incumbents in 43 states nationwide to lose in a primary this year.
Even those favored to win continue to campaign on a daily basis, and some are picking up financial support.
Republican Jodi Stephens is seeking the open Assembly 32 seat in Sparks formerly held by Republican Don Gustavson, who is running for a state Senate seat. A number of lobbyists and businesses are holding a fundraiser for Stephens and Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, in Reno next week.
Stephens is facing fellow Republican Ira Hansen in the race. No other candidates filed. Goicoechea is facing Democrat John O’Connor.
John Wagner, the Independent American Party candidate for secretary of state, said several IAP candidates are working hard to win in November. Janine Hansen, running for the Assembly District 33 seat in Elko, and Stan Vaughan, running for the Assembly District 15 seat, are two of the party’s stronger candidates, he said.
Jeff Durbin, a candidate for Clark County Commission in District F, is also running a good campaign, Wagner said.