The National Republican Congressional Committee seized an opportunity to define Mark Amodei's opponent, and it appears the early investment has paid off.
Even though Amodei isn't at 50 percent, Marshall's image appears to be damaged to the point that she is in a fundamentally weaker position than past Democratic special election winners.
Republicans are confident they have driven Marshall's negatives up to the point where she is "upside down," meaning more people have an unfavorable opinion of her (43 percent in the August 15-16 Magellan poll) than a favorable opinion (33 percent). By comparison, Amodei had a 38 percent favorable/36 percent unfavorable rating in the Magellan survey. A new Public Policy Polling poll, sponsored by Daily Kos and Service Employees International Union, will likely be released Tuesday.
But there are some deeper, discouraging signs for Democrats.
With three weeks left in the New York 26th district race, Democrat Kathy Hochul had the positive image while Republican Jane Corwin was upside down, an indicator the GOP was about to lose the seat.
Marshall's weaker position makes it less likely that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or another outside Democratic group gets involved in the race. Of course, there is still time for the DCCC's independent expenditure unit to get up and running, but it's unclear what line of attack the committee would use against Amodei.
The Medicare attacks based on the Ryan budget plan just aren't moving numbers the way they did in New York's 26th district, and targeting Amodei's past support for tax increases also doesn't appear to be working. Marshall's newest ad does not mention either, despite focusing on those weak points earlier in the campaign.
The messaging might be faltering because Marshall has been branded by Republicans as a national Democrat or because Nevada's 2nd district is slightly younger than New York's 26th. But Democrats surely will be investigating why it didn't work because they believe Medicare will be a defining issue in 2012.
The race in Nevada isn't over, but according to one Democratic strategist, the undecided voters are not favoring Marshall. One theory is that Republican voters in Nevada are more conservative than Republican voters in Upstate New York, so the 2nd district is more difficult for Democrats than the presidential numbers reflect.
If the race continues on its current path, the NRCC could be criticized for spending so much money on a race that wasn't particularly close. But GOP strategists believe it's precisely that early spending that prevented the seat from falling into danger in the race's final weeks. Republicans also believe the heavy investment in the special election will save them money they would have had to spend next year trying to defeat a new Democratic incumbent.