The many names for the first political party created by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison included Republicans (not the same as the modern ones), Jeffersonians, Democrats and some combination thereof, including Democratic-Republicans. Unfortunately for Kate Marshall, it isn’t 1798, and being a Democratic-Republican doesn’t necessarily work.
Marshall figures to lose on Sept. 13 to Republican Mark Amodei in the race to fill the Congressional District 2 seat vacated by Dean Heller. Democrats had hopes that the Nevada 2nd would be like the New York 26th, which went Democratic earlier this year for the first time in ages because Republicans had tethered themselves to Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to destroy Medicare and the rest of the federal budget. That became more difficult during the debt crisis, when President Obama did the opposite of Republicans and put his country above politics by proposing cuts that would harm him with his base; Republicans preferred default and disaster, but it also helped take the Medicare issue off the table.
That still doesn’t explain Marshall’s problems—which really can be explained. Part of it is that this district is heavily Republican—a 30,000 advantage in registration out of 400,000 voters. Further, many of the nonpartisans tilt to the right, as do the third-party members, such as Libertarians and Independent Americans. For all the talk of the Democratic Party’s ability to get out the vote, that’s a lot of votes to have to get out. The candidates themselves could explain it—maybe Amodei is a better candidate anyway.
But a big part of Marshall’s problem is that she forgot Harry Truman’s dictum that when voters have a choice between a Republican and a Democrat who acts like a Republican, they will take the real Republican. While the Democratic Party may have done less to help her than it could or should have, Marshall has been critical of Obama and distanced herself from the party and its policies. But, in a heavily Republican district, is that the best strategy?
Yes and no. That heavily Republican district also includes Reno, where, historically, the Democratic base often is more liberal than its Southern Nevada counterparts. Carson City Democrats were a problem because that’s Amodei’s home turf, and that no doubt hurt Marshall. But in rural Nevada, well, here’s one way to look at it: I visited Fallon just before the 2006 election and had breakfast with a friend who happens to be a Democrat. She requested a seat in the restaurant by the window, and sat facing the window. Why? So she could see her car. She had put a couple of Democratic bumper stickers on it and saw several people approach it, make menacing moves, and either glare or look around to see if they were being watched before they did anything. She sat facing the window so she could get out there and make it clear there was a witness.
In other words, rural Nevada Democrats aren’t much different from urban Nevada Democrats, or Democrats anywhere else—or, for that matter, any Republican. They want someone to vote for whom they can believe in. Marshall has had a tough task, but distancing herself from her party’s leaders and beliefs doesn’t necessarily gain independent votes; it just makes Democrats wonder why they should vote.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.