How Obama Defies Gravity
The battleground fight in Nevada is a window into how the president can win—despite a battered economy.
Harry Reid needed more than just a bad opponent, and Obama will too. The growing Hispanic population helps Obama in Nevada perhaps more than any other state. In 2008, 15 percent of the electorate was Hispanic. Nearly 2 million Latinos have turned 18 since then. In national polls, Obama leads Romney by as much as 40 percent among Hispanics.
But turning Hispanic residents into Hispanic voters requires organization. Democrats in Nevada have been perfecting their machine for the last 10 years under Reid's deliberate guidance. The Democrats in every battleground state boast about their team, but the Nevada operation is considered among the best of the best.
The key for any party is building a strong list of supporters and possible supporters so you can target your efforts to the most persuadable and motivated voters. Reid convinced the Democratic Party to move the state's caucus in 2008 to early in the process. That flushed out scores of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to support Obama and Clinton who then went on the list.
If the list is maintained, it gets better with each election as the party adds more information to each person’s record: what issues they care about, what made them vote in previous cycles—a knock on the door, an email, or a phone call—and how much attention they needed to go to the polls.
Sixty percent of Nevada's voters vote in the two-week window before Election Day. The parties get a daily update of who has voted, so they know who on their list has cast a ballot and who needs more persuasion. In 2010, some Democratic voters got as many as 40 "touches," the term used to describe any type of campaign-to-voter communication. Nevada Republicans are working hard to build their list too, but they haven't been as organized over the last few elections as the Democrats have.
Reid has another incentive to turn out Democrats. The junior senator from Nevada, Republican Dean Heller, is up for re-election. If Reid can help Democrat Shelley Berkley flip that seat into the Democratic column, that would make it harder for Republicans to take control of the Senate. (They need four Democratic seats to steal Reid’s majority leader title.)
Next week both Obama and Romney will be in Reno for the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. Though the topic will be military issues, the economy will surely dominate the political conversation. Like the rest of the country, there are a few encouraging signs even amid the bleakness. Tourism has been up recently and “the spend”—the money tourists drop while visiting—has been improving. Still, the economy isn't set to recover fully until 2017. That would be a year after Obama’s second term. Mitt Romney is hoping Nevadans won’t want to wait that long to give someone else a chance.