Democrats narrow the odds in Reno

Mon, Nov 5, 2012, 00:00

Barbara Halen is a Republican supporter in Reno, Nevada, where election campaigning was intense over the weekend. Barbara totally blames Barack Obama for the fact that she’s now working seven days a week.

She’s fed up with the election. “I get, like, five phone calls a night,” said Barbara on Saturday morning. “They play you tape recordings of this person or that person.”

These phone calls, many of which are recordings known as “robocalls”, come from the political parties and pollsters alike, and are annoying everyone.

“I voted on the first day of early voting and I’m still getting calls,” says Pam duPré, Washoe County Democratic Party executive director.

“I tell them not to complain, because all those calls show that their votes really make a difference here, not like in some states,” said David C Buell, chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party.

“Since 1912 Nevada has always voted for the winning presidential candidate, with the exception of 1976. I can really see Washoe going for Romney.”

Washoe County in north Nevada, where the high mountain wilderness stretches to the Oregon border, contains the gambling and mining city of Reno. DuPré calls it “a swing county within a swing state”.

There are 17 counties in Nevada, 15 of them rural and overwhelmingly Republican. Clark County, which contains Las Vegas, is in the efficient hands of senator Harry Reid. This leaves Washoe, which has 101,134 registered Democrats and 101,324 registered Republicans, a difference of just 190.

In a ruthless search for undecided voters, busloads of party workers have been pouring into Reno for weeks, particularly from northern California.

David Buell was expecting three buses on Saturday. He said that in 34 years in Nevada politics he had never seen a campaign like this one. Outside his office a small crowd of his volunteers was being given an inspirational talk by Olympic gold medallist skater Derek Parra.

At the Washoe Democrats’ office Julia Tanaka was briefing her new Californian volunteers about local sensitivities. “We really need locals to talk to locals,” she told her new canvassers. “It’s crunch time.”

Canvassers in American elections carry things called door-hangers, which are flyers to be left on doorknobs. It is illegal to put anything through a letter box that has not come through the mail.

They also have to cope with penetrating Reno’s gated communities. “On the whole, people were quite receptive,” said a Democrat volunteer I met at a party on Saturday night. “Better than 2008.”

In the small shopping mall where his office is situated, David Buell explained how Washoe became, in effect, the Kildare of the US west coast. As house prices soared in California during the boom, people sold up and moved to Nevada, sending house prices rocketing and bringing an influx of liberals. “It went from being a very red [Republican] state to being kind of purple.”

The local construction industry boomed. For 10 years Nevada was the fastest growing state, said Buell; and after 2008 it led in mortgage foreclosures.

Buell has crunched the election numbers, and thinks the Republicans can win Washoe County by between five and seven percentage points.

Condoleezza Rice is due to talk at Nevada university in Reno. Paul Ryan is making a return visit today.

But some people think Nevada is no longer a swing state. The pollster Nate Silver has already declared Nevada for Obama, and other predictions have coloured Nevada Democrat blue.

It is perhaps significant that Mitt Romney, in his last-minute tour of swing states, has not included Nevada. Either he is as confident as Buell or he knows that Nevada is already lost.