Friday, Oct. 31, 2008 | 2:01 a.m.
Political campaigns are about many things, beautiful and ugly.
They are decided by soaring rhetoric and sleazy innuendo, substantive ideas and phony promises, grass-roots connections and financial advantages. But, mostly, they are decided by cold, harsh numbers.
And right now, Nevada Republicans have to be petrified by the voting counts in early and mail balloting. They have to be thinking: How big will the wave be and how many of our candidates will it wash away?
The figures are nothing short of astonishing as early voting comes to an end today. By the time the last voting machine is wheeled away and put into storage until Tuesday, more than 400,000 voters in Clark County will have cast ballots at polling places or by mail before more thoughtful, patient voters do their duty next week. That is about half the active voters in Southern Nevada, where close to 70 percent of the total state vote will come from when all is said and done.
Through Wednesday, Democrats enjoyed a nearly 20 percentage point lead in number of voters in Southern Nevada. And even more ominous for the Republicans: They were losing by a nearly 10 percentage point margin in previously GOP-held Washoe County. With those kinds of numbers, it would seem that even their Democrat-averse friends in the 15 counties in the state’s midsection can’t save the Republicans.
But could the numbers be lying? Questions to consider when mulling whether the election is over:
• How much of the turnout is reflective of partisan voting and how many are crossing over? National polls have shown 80 percent to 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans voting for their man in the presidential race, with independents generally favoring Barack Obama. But even if John McCain can split independents or do well with them, Obama is likely to have a double-digit lead in Clark County after early voting.
John Kerry only won Clark by 5 percentage points. Obama could double that, which would preclude McCain from winning Nevada if it holds up on Tuesday. Those numbers don’t lie.
• What kind of down-ballot drop-off will there be? I don’t necessarily believe any of the exit-polling of early voters floating around, but I do believe this: State Sen. Dina Titus is almost surely leading Rep. Jon Porter among those who have cast ballots and Jill Derby may well be leading in her run against Rep. Dean Heller.
Democrats will have a double-digit lead in early voting turnout in Porter’s district and will do well in Heller’s, too, so if they can run as strongly (or close) as Obama will with the faithful, Titus and Derby will be looking good by the end of the day. If they don’t, and if they are bleeding independent voters or losing their own to Republicans, Democrats will be in trouble. Derby would be 0-for-2 in that district, and Titus would be doing some serious praying Tuesday to hold on.
The same is true for GOP state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers, who slowly have closed the turnout gap in their districts but may still be behind their challengers after those early/mail numbers are posted between 7 and 8 p.m. (we hope) on Election Night. The question is by how much.
• Can Republicans win the Election Day vote by enough to save their candidates? If McCain is not blown out by the early/mail vote — that is, if he is only down by 5 percentage points or less — he still has a chance here, which is why he and Sarah Palin are coming to the state Monday. Election Day for the GOP this year has never been more important as the party tries to head off a depopulation of their elected forces. Even they must know the odds are against them — the Obama machine, the state’s demographics, the Obama incursions into rural Nevada. They need a substantial turnout advantage on Tuesday to save their people.
Many Republicans here have adapted a strategy similar to what Nevada’s own John Ensign essentially has done as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — assume Obama wins and try to navigate around that in the final days. Some GOP consultants have even gone so far as to tie their candidates to Obama in lower-ballot races to try to piggyback onto the massive Democratic turnout. If they can get their candidates even 20 percent of the Democratic vote this time, it might make the difference.
Democrats know that some of their lesser contenders (must I name names?) will need to grab Obama’s coattails to win, perhaps all the way down the ticket. We will know Tuesday whether he has any.
The numbers will not lie.