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December 20, 2014

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Politics:

What Joe Biden’s visit to Las Vegas says about Nevada Democrats

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Vice President Joe Biden addresses the League of United Latin American Citizens convention Thursday, June 20, 2013.

The Democrats don’t have a big-name candidate for governor. But they do have Vice President Joe Biden.

Today, 102 days before the Nov. 4 election day, Biden will be the second national party leader to visit Las Vegas in three days to rally Democrats for key races in the state. The political season usually heats up after Labor Day. But the flurry of big-name visitors to Nevada shows the Democrats need the help early this year.

Republicans tend to outnumber Democrats at the polls in nonpresidential elections because two key voting blocs, minority groups and single women, are less likely to go to the polls if there isn’t a popular name anchoring the ballot.

Democrats were able to re-elect Sen. Harry Reid in the 2010 midterm cycle but were unable to win the governor’s race, gave up a seat in the state Senate and lost a seat in Congress during the Tea Party wave.

This year, the Nevada Democratic Party — which Reid tightly controls — couldn’t find a viable candidate for governor and party leaders fear their voters won’t turn out, said David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV.

“There’s nothing at the top of the ticket, so (Democrats) have to manufacture interest for folks,” Damore said.

Rose McKinney-James, a former executive board member of the Nevada Democratic Party, said midterms are always challenging for her party. She cited the anemic turnout numbers from June’s primary election — only 19 percent of registered voters cast ballots — as a reason to rally support sooner rather than later.

For Republicans, their base of support tends to vote more reliably in nonpresidential years. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s popularity and a potential Republican takeover in the state Senate (Democrats now hold an 11-10 majority) will also help spark interest.

“Democrats are trying to do everything they can because I think they realize what poor shape President Obama is in politically,” said former Nevada Gov. Bob List, a Republican. “They’re trying to overcome that.”

Expect to see more Democratic “surrogates” funnel into Nevada as the election grows near, List said.

Hillary Clinton visited Las Vegas in April and will be back twice this fall, once for Reid’s clean energy summit and again for the UNLV Foundation fundraiser. Obama’s frequent fundraising trips to California make it possible he could stop here too, Damore said.

“There is clearly a concern about energizing the base,” said Richard Bryan, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Nevada. “There’s no question about that.”

Biden will spend Wednesday in Las Vegas to speak at the NAACP’s national convention and campaign for congressional hopeful Erin Bilbray. She is hoping to oust Republican incumbent Rep. Joe Heck in the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Henderson and Boulder City.

But Bilbray needs the vice president’s signature gusto. A recent poll signaled that Bilbray, who once looked like a strong contender against Heck, “looks less like a serious problem.”

On Monday, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, stumped for Bilbray and lieutenant governor candidate Lucy Flores at a “women’s roundtable.” She also spoke at a fundraiser for Bilbray and visited an NAACP convention.

Flores is facing state Sen. Mark Hutchison in what many are calling the top-ticket race this fall and a proxy battle between the state’s political power brokers. Sandoval hand-picked Hutchison to run, and Flores is Reid’s candidate.

That Flores is the top Democrat in this year’s election is a message that’s already one of the party’s talking points.

“We are going to have a really strong solid coordinated campaign led by the Nevada state party with Lucy Flores at the top of the ticket,” Wasserman-Schultz told reporters on Monday.

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