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April 24, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

Of voter and campaign money numbers

It’s only fitting on a Friday the 13th, where too much is made of the number, that your Friday Flash is all about the significance of numbers:

• Voter registration numbers, Part I: The latest numbers from the secretary of state’s office show that the Democrats now have an edge of 35,000 active voter registrations over Republicans. But what does that number really mean?

Context helps: A year ago, that number was 64,000. Right before the last presidential election, it was 101,000.

At this rate, the Democrats won’t have much of a lead by November, which could be ominous, right?

Again, context helps: In November 2008, there were 1,207,761 registered voters in Nevada. Now, there are 1,039,540. So there are nearly 200,000 fewer active voters than the last presidential cycle, a symptom of the devastating recession here that has caused so many folks to be rendered inactive (they can still vote, but most are probably gone).

But it’s not as if the state GOP has revved up some sophisticated voter registration machine to cut deeply into that big Democratic edge of the 2008 glory days. It’s that the Democrats simply have lost more active voters as they have left their homes or been forced out of them.

Nevertheless, the Democrats once had a 44 percent to 36 percent edge — 8 percentage points is pretty robust — and that margin is now only 41 percent to 38 percent – 3 percentage points is much more easily overcome.

Numbers are not destiny. But they matter.

• Voter registration numbers, Part II: The Third Way, a political think tank, recently concluded a study of voter registration trends in eight battleground states and its conclusion was encapsulated in the first sentence of its report: “Democrats’ path to victory just got harder.”

Why? Because the hemorrhaging in Nevada is repeated in six of the other seven states, as is the rise of independents. (You can see the report here.)

The think tank found that in Nevada, independent voters increased by 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2011. The current numbers show that they are 16 percent of the vote. But if you add in minor party registrations — and many believe a sizable percentage of those who chose the Independent American Party are actually nonpartisans — more than a fifth of the Nevada electorate is not registered with either major party.

It’s the independents, stupid.

• Campaign contribution numbers, Part I: Republican Danny Tarkanian, the man with the golden last name and leaden success rate, raised $344,000 in the first quarter of 2012 in his quest for Nevada’s newest congressional seat. Will that be enough to make the fourth time the charm for the biennially unsuccessful coach’s son?

Context helps: Tarkanian raised more than three times what state Sen. Barbara Cegavske took in, indicating that he is, as I always suspected, the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP primary for the 4th Congressional District. But Tarkanian has won primaries before; it’s what happens in November that has never been kind to him (he didn’t get past June in the 2010 U.S. Senate race).

Again, context: Tarkanian raised more in this quarter than did Democratic front-runner Steven Horsford, who took in $260,000 but has twice as much on hand and has the benefit of a 9 percentage point Democratic advantage.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has appeared to show interest in the race, erecting an anti-Horsford website and hyping a story about the state senator’s awful depredations as a young man (unpaid bills, etc.). And while they may be happy with Tarkanian’s haul, and while they may believe some meaty issues are out there with which to bludgeon Horsford, they haven’t spent a dime in the new district so far and won’t expend much unless Tarkanian can repeat his performance in the second quarter and have some cash left after he wins the primary.

• Campaign contribution numbers, Part II: The other $300,000-plus fundraiser in the first quarter was Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, who is running for the House seat now occupied by Rep. Joe Heck in one of the key races in the country. Oceguera raised $373,000, which will get him on the radar screen.

Heck still has a sizable advantage — his folks say he had a robust quarter but won’t release his figures yet — and had just under $900,000 on hand at the end of 2011.

Context helps: Dina Titus raised a million dollars less than Rep. Jon Porter when she beat him in 2008 and Heck took in a million dollars less than Titus when he ousted her in 2010. Pattern in Congressional District 3?

Oceguera, who was a formidable fundraiser as a state lawmaker, just has to be in the game to make the race competitive with Heck, as the congressman surely knows from his experience. And after his first quarter, Oceguera is in the game.

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