Analyzing early voting in Nevada

Reporting roundup: What might the early numbers tell us?

NEVADA —Two weeks of early voting ended here in the Silver State on Friday evening. In a state where folks can legally wager on the outcome of any number of events, what might these numbers tell us about the odds on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will prevail on Tuesday?

Over the weekend, political journalists were busy analyzing the figures. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, 56 percent of registered voters here have already cast their ballots. If the national counts—from east to west—on Tuesday evening are close, the trends indicated by early voting here in Nevada could help indicate which way the scales here will, ultimately, tip.

Per Sunday’s Review-Journal:

A total of nearly 308,000 Democrats, or 44 percent of all early voters, cast ballots, compared with nearly 260,000 Republicans, or 37 percent. About 134,000 voters not registered with the two major parties account for the rest.

Republican political consultant Jim Denton of Henderson said the numbers bode well for President Barack Obama. He noted Democrats comfortably outpaced the GOP in early voting in Clark County, and held their own in Washoe County around Reno. Democrats also hold a 90,000 voter registration edge over Republicans statewide.

“I think the early voting numbers are bad news for Romney,” Denton told The Associated Press just a few days before Tuesday’s general election.

The Las Vegas Sun’s Anjeanette Damon found a more upbeat Republican for her piece yesterday. Wrote Damon:

Democrats have a 47,964-vote lead among early and absentee voters who had returned their ballot by Saturday.

In Democrat-rich Clark County, the party chalked up a formidable 70,000-vote lead in early ballots. And in Washoe County, Nevada’s critical swing county, Democrats kept the margin razor-thin.

But Republicans succeeded in driving up early-voting turnout in the rural counties, executing a ground-game strategy focused more on door-to-door persuasion than on mail-in ballots.

“We’ve always had a pathway to victory,” said Ted Kwong, a Republican National Committee spokesman based in Nevada. “It may not be the hugest pathway, but it’s there.”

The dean of political journalists in Nevada—blogger and talk show host Jon Ralston—was the first to crunch the early voting numbers, posting his analysis at his Ralston Reports website Saturday morning. Wrote Ralston:

A remarkable effort on the last day of early voting in Clark County by the Democrats pushed their lead above the 70,000 mark while another close day in Washoe left that county essentially even.

…[B]ottom line: The credible polls on both sides would have to be wrong—i.e. Romney would have to win independents by a large margin—for him to win Nevada.

Twenty-four hours later, Ralston observed that the time had come “to once again leap into the oracular breach” as he predicted Obama will once again win Nevada. Per Ralston:

I know the Romney folks and some RNC operatives believe they can still win, despite trailing by nearly 50,000 votes in early voting. But they need everything to break right— President Obama hemorrhages Democrats and independents vote in huge numbers for Romney, two things I do not see happening. It would be very difficult for Obama to lose Nevada, especially because I think more than two-thirds of the vote is in, so whatever turnout advantage the GOP has on Tuesday won’t be enough. Obama, 50 percent; Romney, 46 percent; others and “none of the above,” 4 percent.

Ralston further predicted that the US Senate race—which could help determine which party controls the upper house—will be very, very close, but that incumbent Republican Dean Heller will defeat US Rep. Shelley Berkley. Ralston wrote:

The seminal question is this: Can the Democratic machine save a congresswoman who has been caricatured as an unlikable and corrupt elected official and whose image is badly tarnished? My answer (and I am not confident in saying this): Almost. Heller, 49 percent; Berkley, 48 percent; others and none of the above, 3 percent.

By all prognostications, Tuesday’s election in Nevada won’t be a repeat of the Democratic runaway of four years ago. In a post last Wednesday (titled, “This is not 2008”) Ralston—leading the reporter pack—shared with readers why Tuesday’s results will inevitably be much closer.

Four years ago in Nevada, Democrats were an ebullient bunch. Thanks to Democrat Numero Uno, Harry Reid, they had secured an early presidential caucus, registered 30,000 people in one day and were infused with the spirit of hope and change. The Democratic machine didn’t need to turn on these voters…and Barack Obama destroyed John McCain by nearly 124,000 votes in Clark County on his way to a 12 percentage point landslide in the state.

…[U]nlike McCain, who barely made an effort here and had no real ground force, the Mitt Romney campaign, in tandem with the Republican National Committee, has managed a fairly effective workaround. The so-called Team Nevada folks are populated with smart, knowledgeable staffers, led by veteran Chris Carr, and they have given the effort at least the patina of credibility. But since early voting began…these folks and their national counterparts have behaved as if 2008 and 2012 were like comparing Delicious and Macintosh to show just how red this year was going to be in Nevada.

This is not 2008.

It’s now Election Eve, 2012. Pundits, pollsters, and political journalists have all weighed in. When the sun rises on Wednesday, we’ll hopefully have a good idea of which ones did their homework best and, therefore, are the ones to watch come 2016.

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Jay Jones is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who has covered political campaigns for various media outlets in the U.S. and for the BBC in the U.K.