The Battleground Counties series makes a return as we head out west with Paul Ryan into Nevada and Washoe County. Although most of the population in Nevada rests in and around Las Vegas, once you head to heavily Republican Northern Nevada, Washoe County becomes the destination for politicians of all parties:
Washoe is the battleground county in the battleground state of Nevada. Rural Nevada is safe Republican terrain. Clark County is where 70 percent of the state population lives and where more Democrats thrive. So it’s Washoe County where the political wrestling is happening, a swing county in a swing state. “To boil it down, Washoe is probably the biggest target area of the state,” said Ryan Erwin, an adviser to the Romney campaign in Nevada.
- It is Republican U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s home Northern Nevada turf
- GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama were both in Reno [recently], addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention and sparring over national security
- The Romney campaign opened a Reno “victory office” in late July
- So far, more than $4 million worth of political TV ads have aired in the Reno market
The lay of the land
In 2008, Obama won Washoe on his way to his Nevada victory and the presidency, gaining 55 percent of the vote versus 46 percent for GOP presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona. In 2012, Romney must beat Obama in Washoe to have a shot at winning Nevada and the White House. That is what former President George W. Bush did in his two successful Nevada campaigns, winning Washoe with a little more 50 percent of the vote in 2004 and just under 50 percent in 2000. James Smack, vice chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, said it comes down to this: For Republicans, Washoe is a must-win county while Democrats can afford to lose it and still win Nevada. “If a Republican is going to win the state, he has to win the 16 counties that are not named Clark,” said Smack, who also is the incoming Republican National Committeeman for Nevada.
“Is Washoe an important county in Nevada that either party has a shot at winning? You bet,” a Nevada Democratic strategist said. “Is it the be-all, end-all to win statewide races? That’s something that’s been way overblown by pundits and the media. The fact is that Democrats don’t need to win Washoe to win on Election Day. They just need to do OK.” To win, Democrats are targeting reliable base voters such as blacks and particularly Hispanics, who made up 15 percent of the electorate in 2010. This year, the Democratic target is 18 percent Latino voters. The Hispanic vote could make up for any weakness [Democrats have] in Washoe. Republicans have had a hard time winning over Latinos in Nevada, largely because of the GOP’s immigration policies. In 2010, popular GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, the state’s first Hispanic governor, easily won election but only drew 33 percent of the Latino vote while most backed Rory Reid, his Democratic opponent.
In Clark County‘s shadow
Although Sen. Harry Reid won Washoe by more than 5 percentage points, he got so much support from Latinos and Clark County – which he won by 13 points – that he could have lost Washoe and still won re-election.Clark becomes more important in presidential election years, too, with increased turnout helping Democrats. In 2008, Clark accounted for 67.3 percent of the electorate compared with the 2010 midterm election when Clark voters accounted for 64.6 percent of the electorate. That bump of nearly 3 points could make the difference in close races.
[Republicans] path to victory includes overwhelming [Democrats]in GOP-heavy rural Nevada, beating [Democrats] handily in Washoe County and getting at least 44 percent to 45 percent of the vote in Clark County. Republicans in Washoe County, knowing they could prove vital in the 2012 election, have been working hard to raise money and register voters to keep Southern Nevada from dominating the statewide races. Patty Wade, a Reno developer, [hosted an] Aug. 3 fundraisers for Romney, including one at her Eagle’s Nest home. She expects 125 to 150 people with top donors giving $25,000 a person. It could hit the $1 million mark. “I think the presidential race and the senatorial race are going to be lost or won in Washoe County,” Wade said in an interview Friday. “There’s a much bigger population base in Southern Nevada, but you’re seeing a lot more action here because people understand Washoe County and the rurals will make the difference in these races.”