The Numbers Game

Could Nevada vote by a wide margin to re-elect Barack Obama and then elect a Republican to the Senate and to three of the four House seats? Yes.

Will it? Well, that’s another matter.

Democrat Dina Titus (District 1) and Republican Mark Amodei (District 2) have safe House elections. As for the rest, Obama appears to be leading Mitt Romney in Nevada, but the other races are another matter.  For the Senate, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley and Republican Sen. Dean Heller are in a close battle, with some recent polls showing Berkley ahead and others giving Heller a lead of seven points. In the House races, the latest Review-Journal/KLAS Channel 8 polls have Republican Danny Tarkanian leading Democratic state Sen. Steven Horsford by
three points in District 4 and incumbent Rep. Joe Heck topping Assembly Speaker John Oceguera by 13 points.

Granting that previous R-J polls have been skewed a bit (one poll had Obama and Romney in a virtual tie for Hispanic voters, which is ridiculous), surveys have a margin of error. Tarkanian isn’t necessarily beating Horsford. Berkley and Heller are in a close race. Heck undoubtedly leads Oceguera, but by how much is open to question. The numbers here aren’t set in concrete for anybody.

The individual races also present some tantalizing prospects:

• If Oceguera is losing to Heck by up to double digits and Tarkanian leads Horsford—both are ifs—both are having trouble holding the Democratic voters going for Obama. Why? At the 2011 legislation session, as the leaders of their parties in their respective chambers, both managed to get some Democratic constituencies mad at them. That’s partly a function of being in the leadership, partly that they appeared to be playing good cop (Oceguera the compromiser)/bad cop (Horsford the hard-assed).

• Their legislative records may be haunting them and may reflect something else. The House district Oceguera seeks to represent is entirely in Clark County; Horsford’s goes halfway up the state. On the one hand, Horsford’s district includes the rural areas that might prefer a more moderate Democrat, while Oceguera’s includes more urban areas where a more liberal Democrat would run better. On the other hand, both talked about their duties to the “state” as legislators, and in tight budgetary times that didn’t enable them to bring home much, if any, pork. Perhaps if they had voted for Clark County first, as Clark County legislators almost never do, they would have benefited their constituents and, in the process, themselves politically (and to be clear: Horsford has fought incredibly hard for Southern Nevada educators).

• Heck’s campaign ads refer to “Doctor” Joe Heck.  It’s as though he isn’t in Congress. Otherwise, all that has passed by here is an attack ad on Oceguera, while Oceguera has been running some anti-Heck ads about his voting record. That Heck seems not to want to admit to being in Congress is something that Oceguera may attack him for.

• Horsford has reacted to another Republican racial issue. First, Tarkanian made a stupid comment: “Should we not work within the black community? We could be like Steven Horsford who’s not doing anything with that community and, you know, pretend we’re black and maybe try to get
some votes if that’s where it is.”  More recently, right-wing blogger Chuck Muth referred to “black kids playing basketball” in a Horsford ad when those kids happened to be Horsford’s since his family happens to be African-American. Horsford criticized Muth and requested that Tarkanian disavow it.  A Tarkanian spokesman said, “Danny doesn’t see the commercial that way,” but Horsford, he said, should take it up with Muth.

Setting aside the Republican habit of being the party of individual responsibility and somehow avoiding individual responsibility whenever it’s convenient, this is also the kind of thing that can help unite Democrats behind Horsford when they might not have been for him before.