A poll released Thursday showed appointed Sen. Dean Heller (right) leading Rep. Shelley Berkley for Nevada's Senate seat.
Sue Lowden was at her Las Vegas early voting location as soon as it opened at 10 a.m. Wednesday. But like so many other voters in battleground Nevada, the former state party chairwoman had to wait 30 minutes in a line out the door that had only lengthened by the time she left.
“It’s packed,” Lowden, who lost her bid for the GOP Senate nomination in 2010, said by phone later.
Early voting is exploding in the Silver State, and Democrats so far are the biggest benefactors. The Democratic advantage, coupled with the party’s strong voter registration edge, has party insiders in the state at the very least optimistic about the presidential and Senate contests with just more than a week to go.
“I think that looking at what’s happened so far with the early vote, we’re hitting on all eights,” said Billy Vassiliadis, an informal adviser to statewide Democratic efforts and longtime ally of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
However, the positive sign for the party comes as the candidates in both races are separated by just 3 points, and as further evidence emerges of the potential for a split ticket. That’s according to a poll released Thursday by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Marist College, in which President Barack Obama led Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) topped Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) for the Senate seat.
Ryan Erwin, who is leading Romney’s efforts in Nevada, called the two statewide contests “margin of error races,” and noted that both parties are actually outperforming the norm so far in early voting. Both Obama and Romney were in the state this week in an effort to boost early turnout.
In Clark County alone, which includes Las Vegas, after the first five days of early voting, more than 150,000 had voted in person and 30,000 had sent in absentee ballots. Through Wednesday, registered Democrats had accounted for 50 percent of the votes cast so far in the state’s largest county, while 33 percent were cast by Republicans and 17 percent by those registered as independents or with third parties.
At 9 points, the Democratic edge is far less statewide when the heavily Republican rural counties and the Northern Nevada swing county of Washoe are factored in. In terms of population, Washoe is the second largest county in the state. Overall, about 23,000 more Democrats have voted early statewide than have Republicans.
“If Democrats end early voting up 80,000 to 90,000 votes in terms of raw turnout numbers, you’ve got a battle,” Erwin said. “If it’s less than that, we feel pretty good. If it’s more than that, you look at it and say, ‘Wow, that’s going to be harder.’”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.