If you need evidence that Nevada is in play, look no further than President Donald Trump’s travel schedule.
On Wednesday, the president held a massive rally on the Arizona side of the Nevada/Arizona border. That allowed him to escape the restrictive crowd size limits King Steve Sisolak has imposed while still talking to thousands of Nevadans. And Vice President Mike Pence visited Reno on Thursday.
In the final days of a campaign, a candidate’s time is extremely limited. Every speech Trump gives in Nevada is one he can’t give in Pennsylvania or North Carolina. It’s a sure sign that members of the Trump campaign believe they can win Nevada.
Early voting data shows they have a chance. Nevadans have three ways to vote this year: mail ballots, early voting and in person on Nov 3. Results aren’t released until the evening of Election Day, but information voting demographics is available. This allows you to know how many Democrats, Republicans and independents have cast ballots. Unless one candidate is doing terribly with his own party, this provides a rough idea of how the election is going.
As of Thursday afternoon, 43,600 more Democrats than Republicans had voted. The breakdown by party affiliation was 40.6 percent Democrat, 35.8 percent Republican and 23.6 percent independents and third parties. All data is from the secretary of state’s website.
In many ways, this is expected. As of September, Democrats had around 90,000 more registered voters than Republicans. Usually, Democrats build up a big lead in early voting and then try to survive on Election Day.
This year, there were even more reasons to anticipate an early Democrat surge. National Democrats urged voters to use mail ballots and return them early. That happened here. Democrats have a 113,800 lead in ballots returned by mail voting. Republicans have a 70,200 lead among those voting at the polls.
There are two possible explanations for Democrats’ lead. One possibility is that there are simply more Democrats in Nevada. These numbers reflect that, and Joe Biden is well on his way to victory in Nevada.
Or Democrats could have turned out their most reliable voters early. Democrats who normally would have gone to the polls on Election Day turned their mail ballot in early. Perhaps they were worried about the coronavirus or especially eager to vote against Trump, because almost no one seems to be voting for Biden.
There is some evidence to support the second possibility. Republicans gained ground this week. On Monday, the Democrats’ ballot lead was 55,500, or 8 points.
For perspective, compare this with 2016. Hillary Clinton won Nevada by just 27,000 votes, or 2.4 percentage points, despite 47,800 more Democrats voting than Republicans. At the end of early voting, combined with all absentee ballots, 45,100 more Democrats voted than Republicans. Less than a third of voters cast their ballots on Election Day. Democrats had slightly higher turnout, too.
Here’s why Trump can still win Nevada. The number of registered voters in Nevada is around 20 percent higher than four years ago. That means Democrats’ early vote lead would need to reach 54,000 today to compare with what they had in 2016. It’s logical to think some Democrats who normally would have voted on Election Day have voted early. Perhaps Republicans outvote Democrats on Election Day by 25,000 this time. That’s far from a Trump blow-out, but it’s a path to victory.
But Biden has reasons to be confident, too. A lead is still a lead. It’s better to have votes in the door than the possibility of votes next Tuesday. Mail ballots can trickle in for several more days, while early voting ends Friday. Also, Biden is far more popular than Hillary, so it’s likely he’ll outperform her among independents.
Biden remains the favorite in Nevada. But if Republicans turn out in force on Election Day, Trump is in position to pull off the upset.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 3 p.m. with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at [email protected] or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.