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Nevada Holds Promise for Romney, but Obama Has the Edge

By Erin McPike - August 19, 2012

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What’s more, when Romney has given what his campaign billed as a big speech or appeared at a pivotal event, he tends to schedule them in Nevada. He gave a major address on foreign policy at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas in April 2011. The visit also featured one of his first public retail stops of the season in a neighborhood hit hard by foreclosures. A month later, he held his first national fundraising call day in Sin City and generated more than $10 million in seed money for his then-nascent second presidential bid.

In early September of last year, he outlined his economic plan for the first time in North Las Vegas. And before he embarked on a foreign trip several weeks ago, he laid into Obama on foreign policy at the VFW gathering in Reno.

Despite all of the time both candidates have spent in the state over the past five years, of late Nevada hasn’t seen the kind of intense campaigning that each has done in the Midwest and the East. Romney’s two major bus trips since June hit Ohio twice -- but came nowhere near Nevada. Obama spent three days in Iowa last week, but he has yet to do a major rally in the Silver State this year (although he has campaign stops planned for this week in Reno and Las Vegas).

Still, Romney’s Nevada strategist, Ryan Erwin, touts the GOP activity there. “In the last few weeks we've had Governor Romney twice, Paul Ryan, and Marco Rubio twice -- plus a ton of local events,” he told RCP. “The phone banks are humming; people are knocking doors in 100-degree heat.”

Republican strategists Bensing and Joe Brezny complimented the voter registration and mobilization effort the Romney camp has put into place, an initiative dubbed “Team Nevada.” But both acknowledged that there was a lot of catch-up work to do because the state GOP was decimated several years ago.

Indeed, before resigning from the Senate in 2011 amid an ethics investigation, John Ensign had committed to building up the state Republican efforts to match the vaunted Democratic operation led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But with Ensign’s exit, all of the work that had been put into rebuilding the state party went for naught.

Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle won a hard-fought primary to become the party’s nominee against Reid in 2010, but lost what many thought was a golden opportunity to dethrone the Senate leader. Republicans were steadily falling farther behind Democrats in the race to register state voters, and in July, more residents registered as non-partisan voters than as Republicans. Democrats’ retain an edge of roughly 50,000 over Republicans.

But what could be more problematic for Romney than a registration deficit is that 15 percent of the electorate in 2008 and 2010 was Hispanic, and Democratic operatives project that that figure will be at least 16 percent this year. That should help the president, considering Latino voters have been trending overwhelmingly for Democrats.

As one Republican operative put it: “I'm thinking the only GOP bright spot here will be [Dean] Heller,” an appointed senator who is running for a full term in the Senate against embattled Democratic congresswoman Shelley Berkley. “The races are close and the polling has been off for GOP candidates. They underperform their polls here by five-seven points.” 

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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