Las Vegas Sun

June 15, 2019

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Why early voting numbers may mean trouble for Democrats

With a week to go until Election Day, Republicans hold a commanding edge in early voting that could prove insurmountable for some Democrats.

Through the first nine days of early voting, the Republican Party holds a 9-point edge in voter turnout over Democrats — 46 percent to 37 percent. That translates to a 12,000-vote advantage for Republicans.

The numbers are a reversal from statewide voter registration figures. Democrats hold a 60,000-person advantage over Republicans, 40 percent to 35 percent.

The returns provide early validation to the fears that low voter turnout could hamper Democratic candidates, especially in competitive races for the state Senate. The early numbers are so bad that the 4th Congressional District, once thought to be a safe seat for incumbent Democrat Steven Horsford, could now be in play.

How bad is it?

In a sign of how bad things are for Democrats, former President Bill Clinton is stopping by Las Vegas today to rally voters and generate some much needed buzz from the base.

The party also launched a get-out-the-vote blitz headlined by Lucy Flores last week, but the effort hasn’t been enough to shift the early voting momentum.

Through Sunday, about 37 percent of early votes were cast by Democrats. That's 7 percentage points lower than 2012 and 6 points lower than 2010.

The low turnout in Clark County, the center of the Democratic base, is a particular concern. Democrats have a 107,000-voter advantage in registration. But through Sunday, Republicans are ahead by 1,100 votes.

Compare that to 2012 when Democrats ended early voting with a nearly 69,000 vote advantage in Clark County. It’s worth noting that total voter turnout in 2012, boosted by presidential and U.S. Senate races on the ballot, was much higher than the pace so far in 2014.

The early vote totals don't include another 25,000 in absentee ballots statewide.

Why does early voting matter?

Generally, more than half of Nevada’s voters cast an early ballot. In 2012, 61 percent of ballots came through early voting. Unless Democrats can find a quick fix, Republicans will head into Election Day with a healthy cushion of votes that could be the deciding factor in close races.

Why is this happening?

Several factors combined create a worst-case scenario for Democrats. The lack of a serious gubernatorial candidate has left a hole at the top of the Democratic ticket, and that dampened enthusiasm among the party base and hurt fundraising efforts, said UNLV political science professor David Damore.

Sen. Harry Reid’s fight to keep control of the U.S. Senate has also kept his political machine occupied outside of Nevada, leaving fewer resources for local and state candidates. “Reid obviously has bigger fish to fry this election cycle,” Damore said.

Finally, President Barack Obama’s unpopularity is hurting Democratic candidates across the country, including in Nevada. Damore compared the situation to 2006, when President George W. Bush’s unpopularity led to a surge of Democratic victories at the polls.

Which candidates should be worried about the early voting returns?

The Democrats' slow start has made several races more competitive than initially anticipated and has even put a few once-safe seats into play.

Most surprising is in the 4th Congressional District, where first-term Democrat Steven Horsford is fending off a late challenge from Republican Assemblyman Cresent Hardy. Numbers from Hardy’s campaign show Republicans with a 1,500-vote advantage in the district so far.

Sensing a potential upset, conservative group Crossroads GPS recently bought $820,000 worth of television ads last week targeting Horsford.

Trouble for Democrats also lurks in Senate District 9, where Republicans have a 300-vote advantage so far. The Democrats hold an 11-10 Senate majority but if incumbent Democrat Justin Jones loses to Republican Becky Harris the Senate majority could shift to Republicans.

At the statewide level, Democrats Ross Miller and Kate Marshall, candidates for attorney general and secretary of state, find themselves in tighter races than they expected with their Republican challengers. The Republican advantage in early voting might not be enough to swing these races in the party’s favor, but it will keep them competitive until polls close next week.

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