If you didn’t know Nevada and its six electoral votes are highly coveted in this year’s presidential election, you either don’t watch TV or you never open your mailbox. Statewide, a combined $44 million has been spent on nearly 80,000 ads. Democrats hold a 90,000 voter-registration lead over Republicans statewide, and seven surveys since October 15 show Obama ahead by at least 4 points. But Republicans are campaigning hard here. Given Nevada’s reputation as a swing state, it’s conceivable the GOP could still win it back.
To understand how Nevada might vote in this presidential election, you could look at the polls. Or, you could look back at our state’s results from previous cycles. David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV, breaks it down over the past seven elections:
• In 1984 and 1988, the state was firmly Republican, with then-Nevada Lt. Gov. Paul Laxalt “in tight” with Ronald Reagan and Frank Fahrenkopf as chairman of the Republican National Committee. “There were a lot of strong Republican ties in Nevada,” Damore says. “It was your typical small Western Republican state, in terms of population. You still see that in Montana, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona. We only had one House seat in the early 1980s, and finally got a second seat in 1982.”
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• 1992 and 1996 can be lumped together, as both elections were heavily affected by the Ross Perot factor. “He split the scene in Nevada politics with a viable alternative candidate, effectively handing the state to Bill Clinton,” Damore says. “And in 1996, even though the Perot effect wasn’t as strong, we had a strong economy.”
• 2000 and 2004 can also be lumped together for the amazingly close races both times. With Perot no longer a factor, the state reverted back to its Republican leanings.
• 2008 was a result of a huge Democratic push in Nevada that had been ongoing for several years, highlighted by Sen. Harry Reid’s push to get the caucuses moved to February. “What ended up happening is you have a very competitive primary, so every candidate was coming to Nevada, registering voters, building up the party organization, and that’s when you got the 100,000 registration advantage for the Democrats,” Damore says.
Along with that push came the involvement of the Latino community, which helped re-elect Reid in 2010 after Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle was very vocal with her anti-immigration policies. “George Bush was more successful in getting Latinos to vote Republican, but in each election cycle since, they’re getting less and less of the Latino vote,” Damore says.
Republican nominee John McCain “saw the writing on the wall and didn’t contest the state, and it’s a big problem for them now, because they skipped an electoral cycle in a key state, so you have Mitt Romney trying to play catch up while Democrats have gotten stronger.”
But that’s not to say this year’s presidential election is a slam dunk for Democrats in Nevada. “We’re not firmly Democratic,” Damore says. “You need the right type of Republican to win. Gov. Brian Sandoval is a moderate type of Republican, and chances are he’ll win again in 2016. I don’t think it’s a state where you’re going to run a Tea Party candidate, but there’s still a silver lining here for Republicans—that the right type can still win in Nevada.”