In Nevada, the GOP primary heads north
By Paul Kane
LAS VEGAS -- The last day of the Nevada Senate primary has taken an odd twist, with the three leading Republican candidates chasing votes in the sparsely populated northern tier of the Silver State.
The front-runner, "tea party" favorite Sharron Angle, is in Elko and Ely, with a combined population of barely 50,000, while former Republican Party chairwoman Susan Lowden and Danny Tarkanian are in Angle's hometown of Reno.
Only Lowden, a former casino executive, is planning a stop in vote-rich Clark County, where she'll have one last rally Monday evening with supporters at a Las Vegas restaurant.
Seasoned political operatives know precisely why the most densely populated section of the state is being largely ignored: Because voters in and around Las Vegas have, by and large, already cast their ballots.
A roughly two-week period of early voting wrapped up Friday, and by some estimates, nearly 70 percent of likely GOP voters in Clark County have already cast ballots. Nevada's northern rural areas have had far fewer early voters, so they have a larger collection of votes still up for grabs in Tuesday's race to decide who will take on Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D).
Clark County -- home to roughly half of the Republican vote in Nevada -- makes early voting easy, with polling places in grocery stores, libraries and other civic locales. Nearly 50,000 Republicans in the county cast their votes by Friday. By comparison, in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, a total of 70,000 Republicans in Clark County voted.
Contrast that with Washoe County, home to Reno, 450 miles to the north. There, fewer than 15,000 Republicans cast early votes by Friday, and as many as 20,000 more are expected to cast votes by the time polls close at 7 p.m. Pacific time Tuesday.
Angle is expected to run up large margins in Washoe and the surrounding rural counties, but the Tarkanian and Lowden campaigns spent Monday trying to hold down her margin there. Lowden's camp, which is the most traditionally organized of the three leading candidates, believes it should have rung up a lead of more than 5 percentage points in early voting to have a chance at standing up to the expected Election Day surge for Angle.
Once the front-runner, Lowden has gone with a double-barreled appeal in the closing days of the primary campaign. She's attacked Angle, a former state representative, over allegations that Angle supported coddling prisoners, and has pled with voters in an ad claiming she is the strongest challenger to Reid, whose public approval ratings have plummeted since he became Democratic leader in 2005.
But polls show Angle pulling into a lead. and now that she's in front, she is taking a run-out-the-clock approach, steering clear of the local media, as well as national reporters who have flocked to the race as the latest sign of the tea party movement's prowess. "Sharron Angle is the one true conservative in the race for Senate," one Angle TV ad proclaimed.
Tarkanian remains the wild card, collecting a quarter or more of the vote in public polling. If his voters move away from him, believing he cannot win, they are more likely to move toward Angle because he was the first candidate to launch negative attacks on Lowden, questioning her conservative credentials. If they stay with him, that could cut into Angle's margin of victory in the rural north and give Lowden a route to victory if she runs up a large margin in her home base in the south.
However, Lowden's campaign is the one with the least momentum, and, observers say, there's a chance that her supporters could abandon ship on the final day of voting. That would probably be a boon to Tarkanian, the son of legendary college basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
Washington Post Editor
June 7, 2010; 6:43 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Election , 44 The Obama Presidency , Republican Party | Tags: nevada primary; sharron angle; danny tarkanian; susan lowden; tea party primaries
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