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Democrats hope organizing will counter voters' apathy

Republicans galvanized by the 'tea party' movement have passion on their side as the election approaches. The imperiled majority party mobilizes its get-out-the-vote machine in Nevada and elsewhere.

October 01, 2010|By Ashley Powers and Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times

Repeated polls have shown Republicans as likelier to vote than Democrats. Perhaps more significant, several million more Republicans turned out in the primary season, according to American University voting expert Curtis Gans, the first time that has happened in a midterm election since 1930.

"There's definitely more passion, more emotion on our side," said Brendan Steinhauser, director of campaigns for FreedomWorks, a conservative group working to boost tea party turnout in November.

Nevada may offer the ultimate test of whether that zeal can tip control of Congress. Reid and Angle have been essentially tied in polls for months, and both sides expect a close finish.

The senator started with a big edge: the names of roughly 120,000 voters who took part in the 2008 Democratic presidential caucuses. (Fewer than 10,000 showed up in 2004, when the nominating fight was essentially over. Many believe Reid fought to advance Nevada's caucuses to January to boost turnout and get an organizational jump on his reelection.)

On the ground, volunteers such as Adams and Ramsey are the leading edge of outreach efforts, putting a friendly face — and one arguably more popular than Reid's — on the senator's reelection effort.

A woman cracked open her door on Birch Bluff Lane and held back two small dogs. "Are those Democratic dogs?" Adams asked over their high-pitched yips. Yes, the woman said, adding that she planned to vote for Reid. She shut the door and Ramsey circled a 2 on his data sheet, indicating a vote for the senator.

Angle, a former state lawmaker, has her own ardent fans and a built-in base of anyone-but-Reid voters. Over the years, she earned a reputation for besting opponents in smaller contests by outworking them with the help of volunteers known as the "Lickem Stickem Brigade."

"People will walk over burning coals to vote for Sharron Angle over Harry Reid," said Jarrod Agen, an Angle spokesman.

It may take that kind of devotion. Though there is plenty of anti-Reid sentiment, Nevada's GOP has little money or infrastructure to effectively channel that energy. The party office in Clark County, home to Las Vegas and most Nevada voters, is typical of the Republican woes.

"I'd love to have lots of staff sitting here late at night making phone calls, but I don't," said spokeswoman Lori Piotrowski, a volunteer. "I have people like me."

Given the apparent eagerness of voters to shake things up, that may be enough.

"Republicans have marked [election day] on their calendars with a big red circle. They talk about it every day," said Don Fierce, a national party strategist and one of the architects of the 1994 GOP landslide. Driving turnout won't be difficult, he said: "The only message you need is stop the madness in Washington."

Powers reported from Las Vegas and Barabak from San Francisco.

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