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GOP maintains stranglehold on 2nd Congressional District



Republican Mark Amodei speaks at a victory party in Reno on Tuesday after defeating Democrat Kate Marshall in a special election for Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District. Amodei’s daughters Erin, left, and Ryanne were among the supporters on hand.

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011 | 11:23 p.m.

Amodei wins in special election

KSNV coverage of Republican Mark Amodei winning against Democrat Kate Marshall for Nevada's 2nd Congressional District seat, Sept. 13, 2011.

Click to enlarge photo

Kate Marshall

Special election coverage

Republican Mark Amodei chalked up a crushing victory in Tuesday’s special election for U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s old House seat, routing Democrat Kate Marshall by 22 percentage points.

With an assist by national Republicans wary of losing another special election in the run-up to a presidential campaign year, Amodei’s win surprised few in the heavily Republican district.

“The voters of Nevada sent a message,” Amodei told a cheering room of supporters. “That message unmistakably is: It’s time to start a change.”

In a sad acquiescence to the inevitability of the loss, Marshall’s campaign booked an election night celebration room with a capacity for fewer than 100 people.

“You expressed yourselves. You were a voice. I am humbled you did this in support of me. I honor you,” Marshall told about 50 supporters gathered at a Reno hotel.

Amodei received 74,976 votes, or 58 percent, while Marshall collected 46,669 votes, or 36 percent.

As both parties rushed to spin the results in their favor, Marshall’s loss raised the question many in her party have been asking election after election: Can a Democrat win Nevada’s most Republican, mostly rural congressional district?

With a 30,000-voter registration edge, the GOP has a built-in advantage in the 2nd Congressional District that was only amplified in the low-turnout special election that drew almost all inveterate voters — those who religiously vote in every election with little need of a push by any campaign.

“Can a Democrat win CD2? Well, I mean lightning can strike, sure,” Democratic political consultant Billy Vassiliadis said. “But it would have to be an ideal situation — an incredibly unpopular incumbent, a big presidential year. You would just have to have so many things to line up for a Democrat to win in that current structure.”

That doesn’t keep the party from trying. Some seasoned Democratic politicians in Northern Nevada turn down supporters who urge them to run each election year, saying “it can’t be done.”

But for the past three elections, Democrats have run a candidate. In 2006, Jill Derby lost by 4 points to Heller, the closest a Democrat has come to winning the seat.

But even in near-perfect conditions such as in 2008 — a national election driving turnout, a flawed Republican opponent, an electorate eager for change — then-Sen. Barack Obama lost the district by 100 votes.

Still, Washoe County’s status as an important swing county, and the strides the party has made in organizing Washoe and Carson City, have tantalized Democrats.

The same was true for the special congressional election, which the party had hoped would create the perfect conditions for a Democrat. Secretary of State Ross Miller declared an open ballot election, which would have drawn multiple Republicans — a scenario Democrats had hoped would divide the GOP vote enough to allow a single Democratic candidate to win.

That scenario never materialized.

The Nevada Republican Party, headed at the time by Amodei, sued, arguing parties have the right to nominate candidates for the ballot.

In reality, the election was largely over for Marshall when the Nevada Supreme Court agreed with the Republicans.

That didn’t keep Marshall from trying.

Even in the early days after the Supreme Court decision, conditions looked somewhat promising.

Amodei proved to be a lackadaisical fundraiser. Marshall out-raised him nearly 2-to-1. Democrats have a superior turnout machine in Nevada. And national Democrats expressed interest in helping Marshall.

But that support never materialized — neither from national Democrats nor the in-state turnout machine.

And the more conservative Marshall tacked to appeal to the district’s voters, the more she antagonized the Democratic base she needed to offset Republicans’ disciplined voting performance.

Marshall railed against Amodei for supporting the 2003 state tax increase, which Democrats argued was needed to properly fund education and other state services. She repeated her adamant support for the Republican position of protecting the Bush tax cuts — even for the most wealthy income earners. And she was critical of Obama’s stimulus package.

Unlike Derby, who also struck a conservative tone when she ran, Marshall appeared to be picking a fight with a sitting Democratic president still popular with the base.

“Kate feeling the need to speak against the stimulus, the Bush tax cuts, those are sort of really important issues of the president and by extension our Democratic base,” Vassiliadis said. “Jill (Derby) could run center-right and still have great contrast with Bush. Now Kate’s showing great contrast with her own president. That is the rub with the base.”

Running as a liberal likely wouldn’t have helped matters.

“Regardless of the (change in demographics) in Washoe County, it’s still a center-right area,” one Republican with knowledge of the district said. “They are not going to go for someone with liberal values. But, if you abandon your core principles as Democrat, you’re in trouble.”

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