This political season, so far, has been, “entertaining — in a scary way.”
That’s how University of Nevada, Reno Political Scientist Eric Herzik put it.
He and Political Science professor Fred Lokken of Truckee Meadows Community College agree this is an unprecedented political year that has been difficult to analyze, let alone predict.
But both men, two of Nevada’s premier political analysts, say hopefully, things will start to get clearer, to make more sense, once the supporters begin backing candidates in February.
“We’re all looking to see what happens when the rubber hits the road,” said Lokken.
“The voting is going to start clarifying the picture,” said Herzik. “You’re going to find out for better or worse whether a candidate like Trump has actual supporters or just poll supporters.”
He said Donald Trump could face what Howard Dean suffered in 2004 when, “on a cold night in Iowa, his virtual supporters did not show up.”
“The same thing could happen to Trump,” Herzik said. “Are these angry white males committed?”
Both men said the Republican’s situation should be a big plus for the Democrats as the GOP candidates alienate the increasingly important Hispanic voters as well as women.
“You look at Republicans and say, ‘Oh, my God,” said Herzik. “You’re alienating key parts of growing demographic groups and how is that going to work for you? You’d better hope nobody shows up to vote like in 2014.”
The problem, Lokken said: “There’s such a vacuum on the Democratic side. They’ve never been able to get organized to be effective.”
He said the Democrats should already be working to inspire union members and members of communities like Hispanics as well as women to be on their side because the Republicans are doing their best to alienate them.
In addition, Lokken said, “there are a lot more Republican seats vulnerable than Democrats in the U.S. Senate.”
“The Democrats have to get back all the registration they lost since 2008 to be effective,” he said.
Herzik pointed out what could happen to Trump’s popularity also could happen to Bernie Sanders, who’s giving Hillary Clinton a strong run for the money.
When the actual voting starts in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — followed by Nevada — “You’re going to find out if Sanders’ support translates into votes.”
He said those early races are “also a test of Hillary Clinton’s ground game — can she get out the vote?”
Herzik said he believes Sanders, like Trump, “has a ceiling.”
“He’s been pretty consistent in those (poll) numbers but can he go over those numbers? I don’t think so.”
Lokken said Sanders is generating the kind of enthusiasm “Hillary would kill for.” But as for his eventual chances, he said, “I can’t imagine we could elect a socialist as president. He’s not a great plan B for the Democrats.”
In the first few primary or caucus states, Herzik said the GOP candidate most at risk is Jeb Bush.
“If he stays at like number five in all these races, it’s done,” he said.
If those early races turn out as polling currently suggests, Herzik said the result may not clarify anything. That would be Ted Cruz winning Iowa, Trump New Hampshire and Marco Rubio South Carolina or Nevada.
“On the Republican side you could be a mess if you have three or four winners,” Herzik said.
He said what’s happening in a real sense doesn’t make sense. The rising popularity of Cruz, for example, who Herzik described as “just scary.”
“He’s not effective as a Senator at all,” he said. “He would shut government down over Planned Parenthood.”
On the other hand, John Kasich, former member of the House and former Ohio governor, is polling in single digits.
“The last time the U.S. had a balanced budget was in the late ’90s and John Kasich was chairman of the House budget committee,” Herzik said.
In part, what happens in Nevada again depends on outgoing U.S. Sen. Harry Reid. Lokken said Reid will “put every ounce of what he’s got left” into this campaign season.
“He’s got a lot on the line and would love to see Democrats win in Nevada.”
He said the Republican caucuses also will test the GOP’s organization in Nevada. He especially questioned the decision to move the caucuses to a Tuesday instead of the usual Saturday, which he said could dramatically cut into participation.
In the last analysis, both pundits said the political system will survive because, as Lokken put it: “Our political system, for more than 200 years, has survived our politicians.”