POLITICS:

Democrats have money; will voter enthusiasm follow?

Enthusiasm gap still an issue that is dogging the incumbent party

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 (2 a.m.)

2010 General Election

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Pundits have been highlighting for months the so-called enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats. In Nevada, Democrats hope a financial advantage will balance things come Election Day.

This week came tangible evidence of the money disparity between the state parties: Nevada Democrats have since January raised $2.17 million to finance a slick centralized operation and influence state legislative races. The Nevada Republican Party has raised $163,000.

Factor in the money donated in federal races, such as the re-election of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Dina Titus, and the difference is even greater: Democrats raised $7.4 million; Republicans $2.1 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings this month.

That doesn’t tell the whole story to be sure. Reid and his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, have been prodigious fundraisers. And Angle and Republicans have been aided by third-party groups such as American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity, tapping massive anonymous donations to push a conservative agenda. Reid has benefited from the political action committee Patriot Majority.

But only one candidate, Reid, has a well-funded state party organization to channel volunteers and create a get-out-the-voter operation.

Nevada Democrats have been rebuilding the party since 2002, when they lost every statewide race. Reid has helped raise millions of dollars and brought in national talent to lead the organization. Reid is the Democrats’ undisputed party boss.

Meanwhile, Republicans’ top officials have been tarnished or ineffectual: Gov. Jim Gibbons lost re-election in June’s primary, and U.S. Sen. John Ensign is fighting off scandal and a Justice Department investigation. The lack of a clear leader to rally around has hurt the party’s ability to raise money, political observers say.

Campaign reports released this week by Nevada’s secretary of state show where the Democrats have raised their money.

Since June 1, the Democratic Party has raised more than $1 million for state races, including several $100,000 donations. The haul includes big donations from a Hollywood producer’s California financial firm; gaming companies, including MGM Resorts International and Boyd Gaming; unions representing firefighters, police, teachers and building trades; mortgage companies; and the pharmaceutical industry.

By comparison, Mark Amodei, chairman of the Republican State Party, was one of the GOP’s largest contributors, with a $2,050 check from his campaign. (Harrah’s was the largest donor, at $5,000; the Clark County Education Association, the county’s teachers union, gave $3,000, as did some private companies.)

The Democrats’ money has funded a sophisticated media campaign, a get-out-the-vote organization that has been identifying supporters since December and a chicken costume used to first stalk U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden and now Angle. It has also paid for mailers attacking Republican legislative candidates, including some discredited ads that accuse candidates of supporting guns for convicted felons and investigations of women who have miscarriages.

Despite Democrats’ edge, Republicans have so far outperformed them relative to their voter registration in early voting.

“We were up against a multimillion-dollar state Democratic Party,” Amodei said. He is “cautiously pleased” with the party’s early voting turnout, which has relied mainly on volunteers.

“I don’t think anyone is writing the story that Republicans haven’t turned out their voters,” he said. “We haven’t had the resources that come with incumbent majorities. But we’ve held our own.”

Phoebe Sweet, spokeswoman for the Nevada Democratic Party, disagreed with the common narrative that Democrats may have more money and a better organization but face an enthusiasm gap.

She said compared with prior midterm elections, Republicans are underperforming. And she said Democrats have an advantage over Republicans in actual voters.

Because Democrats have a 60,000 active voter registration edge, “we don’t have to get the same percentage of voters as Republicans” to win, she said.

But the organization also needs money. And Reid has directly, and indirectly, helped make that happen.

On Oct. 1, the Reid Nevada Fund, Reid Victory Fund and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee transferred $535,000 to the Nevada Democratic Party.

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