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August 27, 2014

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SUBURBAN POLITICS:

In North Las Vegas, going for the Obama effect in mayoral race

Robinson, others seek to capitalize on new voter ranks, enthusiasm

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Sam Morris

Volunteers, from left, Charles Murphy, Evan Donoghue, Cody LeDuff and Steven Johnson listen this month as North Las Vegas mayoral candidate William Robinson reads a letter from a constituent. The storefront office was used by the Obama team in the fall, and Robinson has hired some former staffers of the new president.

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Stephanie Smith

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William Robinson

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Shari Buck

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Ned Thomas

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John 3:16 Cook

It’s been nearly six months since the Obama campaign used a storefront in North Las Vegas as a field office.

But politics still permeates the place.

North Las Vegas mayoral candidate William Robinson has taken over the strip mall location, with a discount furniture store next door and a Mexican grocery across the parking lot.

He’s also tapped former Obama staffers, including Alison Schwartz, who was Obama’s state political director.

Robinson is banking on the excitement of President Barack Obama’s historic campaign to carry his campaign through the primary by helping him reach some of the nearly 20,000 new voters in North Las Vegas.

The new voters spring from last year’s registration drives, including ones mounted in North Las Vegas, ground zero for Obama’s much-praised field work.

One of Robinson’s opponents, Stephanie Smith, says she has Obama volunteers on her team too.

Me too, candidate Ned Thomas says.

A fourth candidate, Shari Buck, won’t generate any Obama buzz, being the only Republican in the race. John 3:16 Cook, an advocate for the homeless, is also on the ballot.

In Henderson, no candidates have boasted hiring former Obama foot soldiers.

Campaign managers there say the decision stems from Henderson being evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, while North Las Vegas is nearly 60 percent Democratic. In short, Democratic voters have more sway in North Las Vegas than in Henderson.

But Henderson, like North Las Vegas, has seen the effect of political tactics made popular by the Obama campaign.

Elizabeth Trosper, campaign manager for Amanda Cyphers’ mayoral run, says her campaign uses e-mail and Internet videos to reach voters, an idea she borrowed directly from the presidential campaign.

The Obama effect may be playing out, based on at least one measure — the turnout for early voting.

Although the raw numbers are small, voters are voting early in North Las Vegas at a rate three times that of 2005, the last mayoral election. Through the first three days of early voting this year, 1.8 percent of registered active voters have cast ballots, compared with 0.6 percent four years ago.

In Henderson, about 1 percent of people voted so far this year, about the same as in 2005.

Both cities typically have turnouts of less than 15 percent.

“We’re trying to have it carry over,” Ronni Council, an experienced political consultant and Smith’s campaign manager, says of the hoped-for Obama effect. “But the honest answer is nobody knows if it will carry over.”

Historically, there is no correlation between the turnouts in a November election and in the following municipal election.

The one Republican running for the nonpartisan North Las Vegas City Council is dismissing any Obama effect.

Dan Hart, a campaign consultant working for Buck, said that even though Schwartz is helping Robinson, she doesn’t bring any advantage to the campaign in terms of knowing which registered voters to target. The campaigns, he said, are targeting the same voters who voted in the last election, pure and simple.

Thomas said he was advised not to count on the momentum of Obama’s workers carrying into the North Las Vegas race. “I’m hoping that’s not true,” he says. “I’m hoping the excitement in seeing a change at the national level will translate to the local level.”

Robinson’s campaign is hoping the presence of Obama workers will separate him from the crowded pack.

The top two vote-getters will face off in the general election.

The only visual sign of the presidential campaign in Robinson’s campaign office is a small Obama-Biden clock nailed to a wall adorned with news clippings from the city race.

Among the paid Obama workers now campaigning for Robinson is John Gilbert, 26.

He says local volunteers “got a taste for victory” last year and want to have the feeling again.

“The last couple of years, a lot of people have gotten involved,” Gilbert tells his charges during a meeting. “That’s good. It gives us new people to reach out to.”

Robinson, 69, who has been on the City Council since 1983, stands off to the side in his jeans and sweatshirt.

“It’s a great advantage,” he says as the volunteers pick up scripts for home visits. “It’s the excitement they create. It’s the enthusiasm they have.”

If nothing else, the Obama effect means scores of additional volunteers on the streets for Robinson and other candidates.

Volunteer Donny Grayman, an ironworker, prepared to head to the streets and start chatting up voters.

Just as he did for Obama.

“There’s still a buzz,” he says. “This was a red state and we helped change that. Now we’re doing this.”

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