At dinner, a moderately liberal friend asked whether he had to vote for a Democratic candidate he found wanting in personality and honesty. The answer? Not really, since the candidate seemed likely to lose anyway.
Never mind the identities. What matters more is the nerve of the guy answering the question. How do I know who will win or lose? I don’t, but here are some things and people to watch for, some of it obvious, some of it less so:
1. The Hispanic Factor. Latino turnout could tip several races. Many analysts argue that Hispanic voters closed the deal for Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election in 2010. That turnout figures to benefit Democrats, thanks to the Republicans’ failure to unite on immigration reform and tendency to disdain those who might need government help. But many Hispanic voters live in predominantly Democratic areas, meaning they don’t have very competitive races. The Democratic Get Out the Vote effort becomes even more crucial here.
2. The Coattail Factor. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney could help candidates up and down the ticket, but the guess here is that while neither will have long coattails, Obama will help Democrats more than Romney will help Republicans. This will be especially interesting in the two congressional “swing” districts, the Democratic-leaning fourth district (Steven Horsford vs. Danny Tarkanian) and the Republican-leaning third (Joe Heck vs. John Oceguera).
3. The Ron Paul Factor. The Nevada Republican party remains split between the so-called Paulistas and others who might be called establishment Republicans or even moderate if most of them weren’t themselves so far to the right. But will the libertarian-leaning party members go for Romney? Consider this: If the presidential election is that close, it could come down to an Electoral College tie of 266-266, with Nevada’s six votes deciding it. If Paulistas won’t vote for Romney …
4. Party or Region in the State Senate? Control of that body hinges on several races, but it could come down to Washoe County. Democrat Sheila Leslie, who seems to make no apologies for being liberal, gave up a state Senate seat to run for another one against Republican Greg Brower. Painting Leslie as a lefty might not work there, since she has a long record of service. Suppose that’s the one that tips the balance. If Leslie wins, Clark County figures to benefit, having the state’s largest Democratic registration—but it will take Washoe County to make that happen. If Brower wins, Republican budget cutters gain, and Clark County suffers—unless its delegation unites by region. Which it won’t.
5. The Worst Publicity Is No Publicity? County Commissioner Tom Collins made news for a misdemeanor (he shot a tree on his property, which will teach that tree a lesson) and for one of his bulls getting loose. It was embarrassing. But he’s a Democrat in a Democratic district—except that his Republican opponent, Ruth Johnson, is a Mormon with some name recognition from the school board. This race could measure how tolerant voters are.
6. The Wisdom of Electing Judges. Carolyn Ellsworth, appointed to a District Court vacancy last year, faces a challenger, Phung Jefferson, whose husband, Morse Arberry, was an assemblyman who made a deal with the attorney general over failing to disclose campaign contributions that he deposited in his own account. The state official who helped put the case together against Arberry was … Ellsworth. If Jefferson wins, look for a bigger fight in the future against electing judges, since voters will have shown—again—that they aren’t paying attention.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.