The National Republican Congressional Committee seized an opportunity to define Mark Amodei's opponent, and it appears the early investment has paid off.
With three weeks to go before the Sept. 13 special election in Nevada's 2nd district, both parties are taking a fresh look at the race and re-evaluating their strategies for the stretch run. But even though the race isn't over, Republicans are starting to believe that they've avoided yet another special election loss.
Republicans have lost seven of the last eight competitive special elections, including races in GOP-leaning districts, over the last three years. At least, on paper, the race in Nevada looked like it could be headed for a similar fate.
The seat became vacant when former Rep. Dean Heller was appointed to the Senate, and a small group of local Republicans nominated a longtime state legislator, Mark Amodei. Not only did Amodei have more than a decade of votes to defend, he supported a $1 billion tax increase while in the Legislature. He wasn't regarded as a strong fundraiser and had publicly supported Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) controversial budget, which would make significant changes to entitlement programs including Medicare.
Adding to Republicans' early concerns — the 2nd district is at least a couple of points more Democratic than New York's 26th district, which the GOP lost in a special election three months ago.
So even though Nevada's 2nd has a significant GOP edge in voter registration, party operatives had little faith in their candidate's campaign skills and couldn't afford to let the race get out of hand.
Early private polling in the race showed that even though Amodei represented part of the district in the state Senate and that his opponent, state Treasurer Kate Marshall (D), had been elected statewide, both candidates started the Congressional race unknown and undefined.
The National Republican Congressional Committee seized the opportunity to define Marshall, and it appears the early investment has paid off.
The NRCC went on television in early August through its independent expenditure unit with heavy advertising buys. The television ads sought to paint Marshall as a national Democrat by tying her to President Barack Obama and to use her own words to link her with the state's struggling economy.
The most recent public poll, released last week, showed Amodei ahead of Marshall 48 percent to 35 percent, with two third-party candidates getting another 6 percent of the vote. The poll didn't inspire confidence because it was an automated survey conducted by the GOP firm Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies on behalf of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.
Party strategists on both sides of the aisle agree that Amodei starts the final weeks of the race with the advantage, even though they also insist the race is closer than the Magellan margin.