Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004 | 11:10 a.m.
Looking over how votes for president settled out Tuesday between the north and south of the state, Guy Rocha, state archivist, said, "Essentially, you've a got a Mason-Dixon line in Nevada, and it starts at Pahrump."
Rocha's comment came after looking at the marked difference between Clark County voters, who supported Sen. John Kerry by a margin of about 25,000 votes -- 279,575 to 253,432, according to the secretary of state's unofficial tally -- and the support seen for President Bush in Washoe and the northern, rural counties, which swayed the state's electoral votes his way.
At the same time, Rocha said, predicting partisan votes based on whether they are cast in the North or South only goes so far. For example, Rocha said, Washoe County backed Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., giving 88,704 votes to the incumbent over the 57,719 votes cast for Republican challenger Richard Ziser.
"Once you've laid the geography out, you have to overlay the personalities and situations of particular candidates," Rocha said.
"Nevada, while it leans Republican except for Clark County, has a lot of independent people ... who will cross over," he said.
Bush carried the state by about 22,000 votes -- 414,939 to 393,372 -- so the state's five electoral votes, the object of unprecedented attention by both campaigns prior to the election, were effectively won in the north.
Washoe, the most populous county in the northern part of the state, hadn't voted Democratic in a presidential election since 1964, when Lyndon Baines Johnson carried the county, Rocha said.
That pattern held Tuesday, with 79,698 voting for Bush and 73,219 for Kerry. In Douglas County, Bush's advantage was 15,192 to 8,269, and in Elko County, it was 11,935 to 3,047.
"Douglas County is the most Republican county in Nevada's history, and arguably No. 2 is Elko," Rocha said of the two rural counties.
Eric Herzik, political science professor at UNR, said the Democratic Party made a mistake in not investing more political capital in Northern Nevada.
"I think one of the keys in this race is how solidly the rural counties were behind Bush," Herzik said.
"It's a mistake the Democrats have made in the last couple of elections -- you can't write them (the rural counties) off," he said.
Herzik also said that Clark County failed to produce a heavy advantage for Democrats, noting that Southern Nevada is "not as Democrat as it appears."
"That's the template," he said, referring to the Republican-Democrat split between north and south, "but the Democrats have adhered to that as a strategy."
Rocha noted that many new residents in Clark County come from Southern California locations like Orange County, many of whom vote Republican.
Another set of votes split notably along geographic lines in Tuesday's race -- Question 2, which would have amended the state constitution to require that annual funding per student in Nevada's elementary and secondary schools equal or exceed the national average.
The question was defeated by about 22,000 votes -- 401,372 to 378,791 -- despite a nearly 18,000-vote advantage for the measure in Clark County.
Mary Ella Holloway, president of the Clark County Education Association, was surprised by the results on Question 2, particularly the lack of support coming from the north.
"I don't understand it," she said. "I would think all of us would be interested in the education of our children."
Holloway said she wasn't sure if the north-south split on the measure was due to party lines, or if it owed more to the population growth in Clark County.
"The demographics are different there. They don't have the same problems we do as far as growth," she said. Holloway said Clark County was $1,700 below the national average in funding per student, whereas the statewide average was at $1,500 below.
Rocha said Reid's newfound national influence won't draw additional Democratic support in the northern part of Nevada. Reid's power is expected to grow if he is chosen to succeed defeated Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., as the Senate minority leader. The post would convert the Searchlight native into "the most powerful political figure in Nevada history," Rocha said.
Reid will also be looked to as a unifying force in the Democratic Party -- but that doesn't mean he can unify the state of Nevada, Rocha said.
"Can he convert that power into carrying Washoe County and Nevada into support for a Democratic presidential candidate?" he said.
"I think he's going to be hard-pressed to do that."