By Alexander Bolton - 10/30/10 04:26 PM EDT
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saw a late-week surge in Democrats who voted early in Nevada’s Senate race, giving his campaign hope in the final days before Nov. 2.
Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters during Nevada’s first week of early voting — Oct. 16 to Oct. 22 — despite 60,000 voter-registration advantage Democrats have in the state, according to data posted on the Nevada secretary of state's website. (The Nevada State Democratic Party, however, says more Democrats voted in the first week, counting absentee ballots.)
“We’re not seeing any kind of enthusiasm gap whatsoever,” said Phoebe Sweet, communications director of the Nevada State Democratic Party.
In Nevada’s two most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, more registered Democrats have voted than registered Republicans.
More importantly, the percentage of Republican voters voting early is only about 4 points higher than the percentage of Democrats voting early.
As expected, Democrats had their best day of early voter turnout on Friday.
In Clark County, 16,316 registered Democrats and 11,734 Republicans voted.
In Washoe County, 3,677 Democrats and 3,502 Republicans voted. (Sunday, Oct. 24, was the only other day in the early voting period that Democrats turned out in greater numbers in Washoe — 993 Democrats compared to 983 Republicans.)
Registered voters in Clark and Washoe make up 86 percent of the state’s total.
Jon Ralston, a Nevada-based political analyst who writes a blog, RalstonFlash.com, said the percentage voter-turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats early voters is smaller than it was during the 2006 midterm election.
“There’s no evidence of a wave,” said Ralston. “All the Reid machine could hope for was not to have an unusually high percentage deficit.”
The Reid campaign met that goal in early voting. Now it remains to be seen if the wave of angry Tea Party and independent voters will show up on Election Day to vote him out of office.
The early voting turnout is good news for Reid because Republicans are more likely to vote early and Democrats tend to show up in crowds on Election Day.
“Republicans vote early and Democrats vote in greater numbers on Election Day,” said Dan Hart, a Nevada-based Democratic political consultant.
But Reid shouldn’t pop any champagne corks just yet.
“It’s still going to be pretty close,” Hart said. “A lot of this election is about the non-partisan turnout as well as Democratic and Republican turnout.”
Ralston said if Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee, wins nonpartisan voters by a double-digit margin, she’ll likely win the race. He also cautioned against projecting too much from voter turnout statistics because it’s possible that a percentage of Democratic and Republican voters support the other party’s nominee.
Still, Reid is happy with the results so far.
"We're pleased that Democratic turnout continues to outpace the Republicans by more than 6,000 votes statewide with record early voting occurring this cycle,” said Jon Summers, spokesman for the Reid campaign.
“Our campaign will continue to contrast Sen. Reid's ability to deliver for Nevada in these tough economic times versus Sharron Angle's extreme and dangerous agenda for Nevada and fight to turn out every single vote possible between now and Tuesday night," he added.
Jerry Stacy, a spokesman for the Angle campaign, said Reid is straining to find good news at a time when many Nevada voters are angry.
“Harry Reid’s camp is correct that Nevada is in ‘tough economic times’ and Harry Reid is to blame,” said Stacy. “Harry Reid’s economy has harmed voters from all parties, and they’re coming out to vote for Sharron Angle.
Stacy said voters are excited about the prospect of replacing Reid with a “pro-job, pro-growth leader like Sharron Angle.”
Michael P. McDonald, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University who has studied early voter data in Nevada, said Democratic voters surged in the past week. He reported the high turnout of Democratic voters in Clark and Washoe counties on Friday.
“What these numbers do suggest is that the Democrats have been able to mobilize their supporters and that’s why the election is so close,” he said.
McDonald said the early-voter turnout numbers look better for Democrats this year than 2006. But he said this year’s numbers also look better for Republicans compared to 2008, when President Obama carried the state.
McDonald said it’s not clear whether Democrats have convinced more of their loyal supporters to cast ballots earlier or whether they have expanded the electorate by persuading unreliable Democrats to vote early.
Ted Jelen, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Reid has benefited from the party infrastructure that he has spent years building.
“The Democrats in Nevada are pretty effective at identifying their people and getting them to the polls,” said Jelen.
Reid scored a coup by persuading national Democratic leaders to hold the Nevada Democratic caucus early in the 2008 presidential race. Enthusiasm over the primary battle between Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped state party organizers boost Democratic voter registration substantially.