Early voting brings challenges to candidates | NevadaAppeal.com

Early voting brings challenges to candidates

Associated Press Writer

By the time polls open on Nov. 2, a majority of Nevada voters already will have cast ballots and some races likely will be already decided.

Come mid-October, every day is Election Day in Nevada, and campaigns are plotting their strategies for the exhausting marathon of early voting.

“All of your get-out-the-vote efforts are now extended to four weeks rather than a week,” said Pete Ernaut, a Republican strategist and adviser to GOP gubernatorial nominee Brian Sandoval.

“To have an effective ground game, you have to synchronize a number of issues – door-to-door volunteers, phone banks, direct mailings. All those things should move toward a crescendo.

“It’s a lot more expensive in terms of not only dollars and cents, but in man hours.”

In Nevada’s dead-heat Senate race, the campaigns are knocking on doors, making thousands of phone calls, sending out mail and sifting computer records to identify and contact voters who can begin casting ballots as early as Oct. 16.

The goal is to lock in votes early.

“You are almost running two elections,” says Jordan Gehrke, deputy campaign manager for Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle. “It’s critically important to get as many votes in the can as you can before Election Day.”

With polls showing a tight race, the campaigns are trying to reach wavering independents and swing voters who are likely to determine the outcome.

TV ads produced by the campaigns and outside groups have been running almost continuously in Nevada since the June primary. Staffers are sifting voter records to find people who might typically skip midterm elections, hoping to motivate them to turn out this year.

Angle’s campaign has been scouring data that includes hunting licenses to identify independent voters who might tilt Republican. Harry Reid’s campaign wants to make sure about 100,000 Democrats who voted for the first time in 2008 come back to the polls again – hopefully to vote for him.

Nevada has had early voting since 1994. In the 2008 presidential election, 58 percent of Nevadans voted early, and heavy turnout by Democrats foretold President Obama’s victory in the Silver State.

Election officials and political operatives estimate at least half, if not more, Nevada voters will cast early ballots in the upcoming general election.

Under state law, early voting begins the third Saturday before a primary or general election, and ends the Friday before.

The balloting window brings a barrage of campaign ads in mid October, and has been an issue in debate scheduling. An October debate between Angle and Reid was almost canceled because Angle wanted it before early voting begins, and Reid said he couldn’t guarantee the Senate will have wrapped up by then to allow his attendance. Both finally agreed to debate Oct. 14 – two days before early voting starts.

State Republican operators are urging their candidates to view the final weeks of October as a time to make closing arguments, either in debates or during whistle stops across the state, said GOP spokesman Jahan Wilcox.

Once early voting begins, campaigns hone in on voters who haven’t yet cast a ballot, to maximize get-out-to-vote efforts and make a last ditch attempt to sway political leanings.

“It’s very exhausting. It’s like having Election Day every day for two-and-a-half weeks,” said Robert Uithoven, campaign manager for former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden.

“It’s a true test of endurance,” he said.

Lowden was leading a field of 12 GOP contenders seeking to unseat the Democratic Senate majority leader before early voting began in May.

Spending by outside groups helped propel Angle, tapped by the tea party movement, from a distant third to victory, as conservative groups like Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express pumped hundreds of thousands into her cause, and liberal groups, like Patriot Majority, targeted Lowden and comments she made about bartering for health care.

Mike Trask, spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Rory Reid, said early voting data provided daily by election officials identifies trends – those most motivated to go to the polls, and those who need prodding.

“We’re able to update our files, keep track of how many people have been out there voting, if they’re Democrats or Republicans,” he said.

Andrew Stoddard, spokesman for Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said early voting requires a candidate to focus on a message earlier in the election season, and have the stamina and finances to sustain its deliverance.

“You have to make sure you carry your momentum through early voting into the election,” he said.

For those who do vote early, there’s a possible added benefit – no more campaign phone calls or mailbox-cluttering flyers.

“Once we know a voter has cast a ballot, we stop calling them,” Trask said. “We whittle our list down, so to speak.”