Republicans push turnout in Nevada House race

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LAS VEGAS - For retiree Claud Butler, the House special election in recession-ravaged Nevada has become a referendum on the GOP.

The 17.4 percent unemployment rate in his tiny hometown of Lyon County is the highest jobless rate in the state and Butler claims Republicans will aggravate the crisis if given the chance. He has spent weeks hanging campaign signs and urging voters in a state hit hard by unemployment and the housing bust to deliver a Democratic victory.

His efforts are being replicated across rural Nevada, where Democratic volunteers are knocking on doors, waving campaign signs and ringing voters in a unified effort to elect one of their own to the House for the first time. The turnout operation is inspired in part by a surprise Democratic victory in New York's House special election in May in a similarly conservative district.

"The B.S. that is being handed out by the Republicans is getting tiring," Butler said. "We are pushing as much as we can to get the Democratic vote out."

But the effort to anoint state Treasurer Kate Marshall the first Democrat in Congress to represent rural Nevada appears to be falling short.

Republicans had turned out 7,419 more voters than Democrats as of Thursday, the sixth day of early voting, according to state figures. The results are not surprising given the GOP's 32,000-vote registration edge over Democrats in the district. To win, Marshall needs Democratic voters to overwhelm Republicans at the polls through the Sept. 13 Election Day.

In the face of such dismal prospects, Marshall has kept a cheerful front, ensuring followers that she will ultimately overtake Republican Mark Amodei with some help from his own party members.

"Most of these people have voted for me twice before and I look forward to having them vote for me for a third time," Marshall told The Associated Press, referring to her previous statewide campaigns for treasurer. "So I am very optimistic."

Amodei's campaign, meanwhile, has alternated between downplaying notions of certain victory and fanning predictions that Marshall will lose. His campaign declined to make him available for an interview.

"This election is all about turnout," said Amodei spokesman Peter DeMarco, before adding, "There is no way she can win."

The House special election seeks to fill a vacancy created when Republican Dean Heller was appointed to the Senate to replace Republican John Ensign in May. Democrats initially saw the opening as a chance to finally win the historically GOP post, but their confidence has fallen in recent weeks.

"It's not impossible for her to win at this point but I can't imagine anyone betting on it," said Robert Uithoven, a former consultant for Republican Jim Gibbons, who represented the district from 1997 to 2006. Uithoven said Marshall's attempts to win over conservatives have turned off liberals.

Marshall and Amodei have both focused on Nevada's dismal economy, federal entitlement programs and President Barack Obama's leadership during the abbreviated race. Neither candidate has had much good to say about Obama, with Amodei embracing the tea party's anti-Washington screed and Marshall campaigning as a moderate. She told the AP Friday that it was inappropriate for the national media to describe the race as a mandate on Obama.

Dan Hart, a Las Vegas Democratic consultant, said the unpredictability of Nevada's first House special election rendered any Election Day forecasts moot. But, he, too, was less than encouraging.

"It's not the kind of numbers she would like to see," he said.

Both candidates had plans to trace northern Nevada's parade and county fair circuit over the Labor Day weekend, with Marshall and Amodei scheduled to make stops in Fallon, Winnemucca and Elko. Marshall's campaign also unleashed an army of volunteers, making a combined 185,000 calls and door stops this week alone, according to her campaign staff. Amodei's campaign would not provide similar information.

Marshall outraised Amodei by $160,000 through Aug. 24, according to federal disclosure forms. Overall, Amodei ended the fundraising period with $127,547 on hand to spend, while Marshall had $187,689. Amodei counted $48,891 in debt.

Marshall said her numerous individual donors were the best barometer of her campaign's viability. "In a democracy, it is one person, one vote," she said.

Amodei's campaign downplayed the significance of the cash gap.

"She could buy up the entire week of every channel and it still wouldn't make a difference," DeMarco said. "It sure doesn't look to me like the cavalry is coming."

In contrast, Amodei has had plenty of help. The National Republican Campaign Committee has put almost $600,000 into destroying Marshall. American Crossroads, a GOP-leaning political action committee, dropped another $195,000 on the race.

The cash fueled an advertising standoff on Nevada's airwaves - Marshall's ads portray Amodei as a tax-happy conservative who will dismantle Medicare, while Amodei has pivoted between attacking Washington Democrats and painting Marshall as an Obama follower.

His message has been well received by some Republicans.

"We don't want any socialist Democrats winning," said George Attleberry, 77, who cast a ballot for Amodei at the tony Sun City Anthem Community Center near Las Vegas Friday afternoon.

His wife, Desneige Attleberry added, "I just hope every seat from now on is won by a Republican... I don't care who he is."

In Amodei's hometown of Carson City, GOP officials directed dozens of volunteers to knock on doors early Saturday morning, before the desert temperature peaked.

"I don't think anybody wants to lose that seat to a Democrat," said Carol Howell, vice chair of the Carson City Republicans. "I will not stop working to make sure that doesn't happen."

In nearby Washoe County, the largest area in the district, Democrats organized similar outreach efforts.

Pam DuPre, executive director of the Washoe Democrats, said her organization had loaned volunteers to Marshall's campaign.

"We have people walking in from the street saying, 'How can I help?"' she said.


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