In Nevada, It's Romney's to Lose

After spurning Trump debate, Romney takes his endorsement

Nevada, or, as I like to call it, “Snowfall,” may be poorly named after the blizzard of ads we’ve been seeing elsewhere in Florida, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Iowa; but beneath the calmness and lack of exposure is a well-oiled strategic machine that is methodically getting out the vote.

If the latest poll is to be believed, Mitt Romney might just strike political gold in the “Silver State.” Romney is the favorite of 50% of likely GOP caucus-goers, according to the Democratic-leaning polling firm Public Policy Polling. He’s leading his next closest rival, Newt Gingrich, by 25 points. Ron Paul is third at 15 percent, and Rick Santorum is fourth at 8 percent.

Nevada has been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn, with a high number of home foreclosures and an unemployment rate that recently soared to an all-time high of 14.9%. In other words, Nevada’s looking for a turnaround; Nevada Republicans think that the guy who turned around the Olympics next door might be able to help.

For the Mitt supporters out there, Romney is doing especially well in the state that went for Barack Obama in 2008, with 55% of the vote. I quote the PPP poll:

Romney hits the 70% favorability mark in Nevada, something we’ve seen for him in very few states. Just 25% see him unfavorably. That’s partially due to an 89/8 standing with Mormons, but he’s at a still very strong 64/30 with non-Mormons as well. One thing that’s contributing to Romney’s strength in Nevada is a strong advantage on the electability question. 56% think he would be the strongest candidate against Barack Obama this fall with no one else topping 21%.

He has several things going for him that other candidates will have a hard time matching. The first is that a caucus, unlike a primary, discourages turnout, which helps Romney, who has had some of the most predictable polling of any candidate thus far. The second is that a well-organized caucus operation can be “turned on” to win a swing state later on. These two insights were what led Barack Obama, who narrowly lost the caucus to Hilary Clinton, to capture the nomination.

The way to think about Nevada is that it is really three different cultures, all of which are nominally tied together in a distant capital. There are two urban areas–Los Vegas and Reno–and the rest is about as rural as you can. That’s part of the reason it is so hard to poll. This became evident in 2008 when Nevada went 37.4% for Romney when only 5% was predicted.

Las Vegas, Nevada’s biggest city, itself tends to have very low turnout in general. Part of this is the transient population; part of it is also that everyone works all night and sleeps during the day. But there is, at least, on the GOP side, one major exception to this rule: the Mormons. Vegas, as with much of Nevada, was first settled by Mormons as part of the Mormon corridor. Nevada’s two senators, Dean Heller and Harry Reid, are both members of the church of LDS. Reid is a convert and the atypical Mormon Democrat. But even Mormon Democrats look upon Mitt Romney favorably.

But there are two groups that are going to help determine the general election: Latinos and Labor.

If Romney can do as well among Nevada Latinos as he did among Cuban Americans, he will win Nevada in the general election. It is one of the big open questions of this race as to whether or not the son of a Mexican Mormon can defeat the first black president, Barack Obama.

As to the second group, Romney just isn’t going to get the Labor vote, but he can help to fight it by aligning with its biggest foe and his biggest foe’s backer: Sheldon Adelson. Adelson became politically active when the labor unions that wound up endorsing Barack Obama began organizing in front of his non-union hotels. He was miffed, so he began donating to the Republican Party.

Were I Romney, I would make a quiet overture to Sheldon Adelson. Not only will this suck the oxygen out of the Gingrich campaign–Adelson will be less likely to donate to Gingrich if Romney can show him that there is no space between them on key issues–but it will also send a signal to some of the other casino moguls leery about supporting Romney.

Though Mormons personally oppose much of what Vegas stands for, much of the hotel industry in the city is run and staffed by them. Indeed, Romney’s first name, Willard, comes from J. Willard Marriott, the hotel magnate and best friend to George Romney. Romney sat on the board of the Marriott hotels between 1992 to 2001. He ought to stress that, based upon that experience, he understands the issues facing casino and hotel owners and can fight against the demonization of Las Vegas by Barack Obama.

By focusing on how President Obama’s policies have made Nevada’s recovery nonexistent, Romney can use the springboard of his probable win tomorrow when he comes back in November. As Romney has put it, the economy is “my power alley.”