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September 19, 2014

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Democrats’ fear can be smelt all the way from Massachusetts

As the Scott Brown/Martha Coakley psychodrama played out Tuesday in Massachusetts, turning a sure win for Ted Kennedy’s party into a Campaign 2010 metaphor, many Nevada Democrats surely were seeking therapy — or asking Oscar Goodman for a few of those sapphire-colored bottles.

It is always dangerous to draw conclusions for one state from an election in another, especially a special election to fill a seat. But although Nevada may not be Massachusetts, the result surely has implications for this state, its highest-ranking politician and both parties. Democrats can invoke all the “eternity in politics” clichés they want, but they know they are in jeopardy of losing what they gained in 2008 — and more.

For years, it has been accepted that a Democrat in Nevada is different than a Democrat in Massachusetts. But we now know of at least one similarity: Both seem like endangered species.

You can almost smell it out there, the unmistakable scent of fear. Democrats are frightened not just about losing two Reids in the state’s two highest offices but also suffering losses down the ticket that could affect the state’s political structure for a decade because reapportionment and redistricting looms next year.

Massachusetts is different from Nevada in one clear way — but a way that still may be a harbinger of results here. Democrats outnumber Republicans by three to one in Massachusetts, but both are minority parties compared to unaffiliated voters. Independents ruled there Tuesday — and will drive the outcome of Campaign 2010 — or so it appears from this telescopic vantage point.

Independents may not be as numerous here, but if races are competitive, they could be decisive. In Nevada, Democrats have an 84,000-voter lead over the GOP — they have about 43 percent of the state’s voters. Independents here make up about 15 percent of the electorate, so the Democrats here could argue their impact in November could be vitiated.

Maybe. But the raw numbers suggest they will be determinative here, too — there are 174,000 independents here, twice the Democratic advantage over the GOP. If the numbers here reflect the turn against the Democratic agenda among independents that existed in Massachusetts and does elsewhere — and polling data suggests it does — that is ominous.

And with all due respect to the Family Reid, I have yet to see any evidence that Harry (Senate race) or Rory (governor’s race) are lighting a fire under the base. Neither is much more scintillating as a candidate than Martha “Curt Schilling is a Yankee fan” Coakley, although neither is likely to say Jerry Tarkanian is a University of New Mexico supporter.

The other potential nexus with Massachusetts, where Barack Obama received 62 percent of the vote in 2008, is the president’s approval rating. In a recent summary of poll numbers, Politics Daily reported that Rasmussen found Obama had a 57 percent approval (41 percent disapproval) rate in Massachusetts while health care reform was at 52 percent approval (46 disapproval). A PPP poll had Obama at 44-43 there and health care reform at 47-41.

Compare those with recent Obama numbers in Nevada, where the president won 55 percent of the vote: Rasmussen found Obama at 49-50 and health care disapproved by 54 percent (39 percent approve). PPP had Obama at 44-52 here and health care reform at 36-54. Mason-Dixon had Obama at 44-43.

So the president’s numbers here, by some measures, are significantly weaker than they are in Massachusetts, which means even bigger trouble for the Democrats. Add in what I have called the reverse symbiosis of the two Reids on the ticket and the potential vortex that creates for the entire Democratic slate, and it’s no wonder they feel like they are looking into a wave building as if they were on the deck of the Poseidon.

I can think of no atmospherics here that help the Democrats — except one. The best thing the Democrats have going here is the Republican Party.

The GOP has no money, quirky (charitable description alert) leadership and internecine warfare. To wit:

The state Democratic Party raised $1.1 million last year — 10 times what the state GOP amassed. While Reid the Elder has a tight grip on the Democratic Party, GOP boss Chris Comfort appears as much enamored with his reflection in the mirror as with the prospect of victories in November. And the purity tests being imposed in many GOP primaries, including the one against Reid, also may have the Republicans sipping weak tea by November.

Some of this can be ameliorated by outside assistance — money, sane people. But if the Democrats hang on here in November, it may have less to do with what they were able to accomplish than what the Republicans here botched.

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