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November 20, 2014

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Republicans adding few new voters in Nevada

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Sue Lowden

This was a summer of discontent for Democrats as they lost control of the health care debate, the economy continued to founder and their approval ratings slipped, both in Nevada and nationally.

But Democrats’ troubles haven’t brought a surge of new voters for Nevada’s GOP.

Republicans have added just 1,549 voters since February, when the secretary of state’s office cleaned up voter registration rolls.

Democrats, meanwhile, added 4,860 and nonpartisan registration grew by 3,783. Even the hard-right Independent American Party registered more Nevada voters in that span than Republicans.

“Coming in fourth? Ouch,” said Erik Herzik, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a registered Republican.

Herzik said the Nevada Republican Party’s problems are twofold.

First, it lacks any real party organization. The state GOP lost its chairwoman when Sue Lowden stepped down to run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The state party, which shares an office with the Clark County Republican Party, doesn’t have an executive director.

Democrats, by contrast, have an organization that is in perpetual campaign mode, with paid staff working to register voters.

The second problem, according to Herzik, is the party’s message.

“Even though the Democratic brand has diminished in popularity, it’s not like the Republican brand has jumped up to replace it,” Herzik said. “What is the Republican alternative on health care? What is the alternative on the war in Afghanistan? What is the alternative on the stimulus package? It’s ‘We don’t like Obama.’

“Republicans can’t just be the party of no.”

Indeed, national and state polling shows both parties suffer low approval ratings.

Republicans in September were viewed positively by 28 percent and negatively by 43 percent of voters, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found. That’s relatively unchanged since October 2008, when 31 percent viewed the GOP positively and 48 percent viewed it negatively.

Democrats were viewed positively by 41 percent and negatively by 39 percent in September, down from October 2008, when 49 percent viewed the party favorably and 31 percent viewed it negatively.

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter, said voter registration gains are “obviously disappointing for Republicans” but registration is a lagging indicator of public attitude toward political parties.

“There’s no improvement in the Republican brand,” Rothenberg said. “But ... a midterm election is about the incumbent party. There will be significant opportunities for Republicans to make gains.”

Democrats have a 97,000-voter registration advantage over Republicans in Nevada. Before last year’s election, the advantage was more than 100,000. (In January the secretary of state’s office changed the status of voters who moved or had not voted in the past two federal elections to inactive. More Democrats than Republicans were deemed inactive.)

Republican political leaders say that it’s still early.

Republican National Committeewoman Heidi Smith said the party will address its organizational problems in November, when it elects a new chairman and executive director.

She acknowledged that voter registration efforts are not adequate. “They won’t be adequate until we get a new chairman,” she said.

Robert Uithoven, a political consultant for Lowden’s Senate campaign and finance chairman of the state Republican Party, said Republican neighborhood groups are seeing increased membership. “There’s excitement back within the ranks of the party.”

Uithoven cited polls showing that even with the Democrats’ registration advantage, Republican candidates are leading the presumptive Democratic candidates in the U.S. Senate and governor’s races.

“Nevada voters are independent. They won’t just vote for someone because he’s a Republican or he’s a Democrat,” he said.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Phoebe Sweet said the party has recently hired more organizers and 40 percent of new voters registering since February have been Democrats, 13 percent Republicans.

“If you look at the polling on Republican approval ratings, they’re terrible,” she said. “Yes, President Obama’s poll ratings are slipping, some of ours are slipping. But Republicans are faring far worse than we are, and people are running in the opposite direction from the Republican Party.”

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