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NRCC’s Nevada Buy Signals Competitive Race

For Democrat Kate Marshall to win next month’s Nevada special election, several things will need to fall in place.

The state treasurer must energize Washoe County’s Democrats, reach out to independents and Republicans and hope some Republicans sit out the election — and former state GOP Chairman Mark Amodei might need to trip up, according to insiders.

But however long Marshall’s odds might be in a regularly scheduled election in this historically Republican district, the race is rattling nerves enough that the National Republican Congressional Committee has dropped a sizable independent expenditure on two TV ads and has spent money on a coordinated ad with Amodei.

Even in a district known for high turnout, both parties can only wonder how many people will hit the polls for a Sept. 13 contest to replace Republican Dean Heller, who was appointed to former Sen. John Ensign’s seat. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last year showcased the strong field operation he’s built along with the state party, but he still trailed GOP challenger Sharron Angle by almost 20,000 votes outside Clark County. In an area where Democrats are generally moderate, there are 30,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the 2nd district, with about 63,000 nonpartisan voters.

“She’s going to have to run an aggressive field campaign, but she’s also going to have to run a strong message to either win over Republican voters or convince them to stay home,” Democratic strategist Ed Espinoza said.

The Marshall campaign is focusing on its ground game and raising money to stay on the air. Volunteers have made 75,000 voter contacts through phone calls and canvassing so far, and the campaign received 1,000 donations already from this week’s fundraising email.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to spend any money there, and a spokesman who wouldn’t say if that would change only suggested the NRCC expenditures amount to “pushing the panic button.” But other outside Democratic groups are closely watching the race, and some observers expect them to jump in. EMILY’s List, a campaign organization devoted to electing Democratic women who favor abortion rights, has a fundraising portal for Marshall at the top of its website.

“I think she needs a Mark Amodei mistake,” Reno-based GOP consultant Robert Uithoven said. Contrasting her record with Amodei’s is “not going to be enough,” he said.

Marshall finished the second quarter with more than twice as much money as Amodei. Despite the NRCC stepping in to pay for ads, the Amodei campaign and Republicans in Washington said rumors of a cash-flow problem are overblown.

“The reality is this is a Republican district, so we expect to continue to see very strong support in fundraising and from the voter contact that we are doing and will continue to do,” Amodei spokesman Peter DeMarco said.

NRCC spokesman Tyler Houlton said that, with six weeks left, the GOP simply wants to highlight Marshall’s “failed leadership as Nevada’s top finance officer.”

In case there was any confusion about Marshall’s political party — because she failed to mention it in her first two TV ads launched last week — the NRCC’s ads both refer to Marshall only as “Democrat Kate Marshall.” The first ends with the word “Democrat” in bold and a picture of President Barack Obama with his arm around Marshall.

Both ads target Marshall’s stance as a fiscally responsible steward of the state’s treasury and tie her to the state’s “worst-in-the-nation” economy.

There is some back-and-forth arguing between the campaigns over the accuracy of an oft-repeated claim that Marshall “gambled away $50 million” of the state’s money by investing with Lehman Brothers. The Reno Gazette-Journal debunked the claim Monday.

As for Marshall, her messaging strategy illuminates what Democrats see as her path to victory. Marshall is going after the heart of Amodei’s base and is trying to spark interest among Washoe County Democrats in Reno at a time when voters aren’t usually focused on politics.

Republicans in this part of the state — pretty much everywhere outside metro Las Vegas — nearly sent Angle, a tea party favorite, to Congress five years ago and handed her the Senate nomination last year, Espinoza said. With that in mind, Marshall’s campaign is using every chance it has to paint Amodei as a supporter of tax increases and to produce doubt about him in the minds of conservatives in hopes of suppressing turnout for his base.

Marshall’s first two TV ads last week offered the messages the Marshall campaign wants voters to come away with: The Democrat represents sound fiscal decision-making based on her record as treasurer, and then-state Sen. Amodei in 2003 co-sponsored what would have been the largest tax increase in the state’s history. The campaign also plans to keep pushing the idea of protecting Medicare, a carryover from the messaging in Rep. Kathy Hochul’s (D-N.Y.) upset special election victory in a traditionally Republican district in May.

“In this election, voters have a clear choice between Marshall’s proven, steadfast financial management and Mr. Amodei’s reckless financial record,” Marshall spokesman James Hallinan said, a talking point similar to one used by the DCCC’s Jesse Ferguson.

While the NRCC’s entrance signaled a competitive race, insiders are still waiting to see whether Democratic groups jump in. House Majority PAC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said the Democratic super PAC “is keeping very close tabs on the race.”

Early voting begins Aug. 27, so voters will actually have about two weeks to get to the polls. While that will likely help boost turnout, who shows up when this race is the only thing on the ballot is anyone’s guess.

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