Odds stacked against Team Romney in Nevada

Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin mans the phones at the Team Nevada headquarters in Las Vegas, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012.
Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin mans the phones at the Team Nevada headquarters in Las Vegas, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012.
AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jerry Henkel, pool

Despite being one of the hardest-hit states in the recent economic collapse, battleground Nevada seems headed to vote blue again this election. With foreclosure rates among the worst in the nation and the unemployment at 11.8%, Nevadans have reasons to want change in the White House.

And yet, conventional thinking and the polls headed into Election Day suggests that Obama is likely to win Nevada, as he did in 2008. New York Times’ Nate Silver gave the president a 94.4% chance to win the state.

Despite its battleground status—Nevada has voted for a Democratic president in 1996 and 2008, and for a Republican in 2000 and 2004—neither Mitt Romney nor the president spent any time in Nevada over the weekend.

It could be because a lot of votes have already been cast as of last Friday. About 50% of registered voters cast their ballots early (only an 80% of registered voters are estimated to vote). No one yet knows how the actual vote breaks down, but the state released party affiliations of those who voted. In Clark County, where Nevada is located, Democrats had a large lead with 70,000 more Democratic voters.

Polls and early vote information already favor the president, but other factors could swing the state:

  • Hispanic voters, who turn out for Obama, are believed to be underreported in polls. Gary Segura, a pollster for Latino Decisions told Talking Points Memo:

Pollsters often neglect to conduct interviews in Spanish — problematic in a state where many residents don’t speak English as a first language. That shortcoming, Segura said, likely undersold [Harry] Reid’s level of support two years ago and may be occurring again this year.

  • In Nevada, Romney hasn’t had enough tactical support from the state GOP due to the division between devout Ron Paul supporters and GOP regulars. The Clark County GOP organization was taken over by Paul loyalists. In the past few months, the Romney campaign was forced to build a parallel organization, Team Romney, which on occasion has had to bus in volunteers from California and Utah for local get-out-the vote efforts.
  • In contrast, Sen. Harry Reid has had a long-standing robust ground game, powered by labor organizations. Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas is 55,000-strong and is well-organized. In the 2010 midterms, counter to predictions, Sen. Harry Reid defeated challenger Sharron Angle by nearly six points. Reid’s political machine is widely praised, even by Republicans, as one of the most effective at voter-organizing.
  • The Sheldon Adelson factor: The Center for Responsive Politics said the Las Vegas casino mogul has invested more than $53 million into outside groups to affect the elections—and all that money wouldn’t be well-spent if Adelson couldn’t help Romney get Nevada’s six electoral votes.  Late last month Adelson’s management company was reported to be pressuring workers to vote a certain way, distributing “voter guides” friendly to the GOP nominee.
  • A factor in Romney’s favor could be Mormon enthusiasm. Las Vegas conservative columnist Sherman Frederick says Mormons in the state are “incredibly energized” about the Romney campaign. Mormons however, make up only about 7% of the state’s population.

It could all come down to Washoe County, where Reno is located. The race is neck-and-neck there, with early voting totals showing 45,043 Democrats, and 44,402 Republicans casting ballots. GOP has an advantage in rural Nevada, and the vote in Washoe County often decides the winner.

Paul Ryan was the only one of the four men on the presidential tickets to spend time in Nevada on election eve –  and he visited Reno. He told a cheering crowd in an airport aviation hangar Monday, “So many Americans are looking to you right here in Reno to make sure you cast your vote for actual real change, to get us off this dangerous path we’re on.”

If Romney gets a huge turnout in Washoe County, Romney could still squeak out a win.

David Damore, an associate professor of political science at the University of Las Vegas, tells the Washington Post that a huge Republican voter turnout, and poor Democratic turnout could still change things, although “Romney needs a miracle.”