THE BLOG
11/03/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Battle For The West: Californians Strike Nevada

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Sen. Barack Obama stumps in Reno September 30 - Getty Images

Two new polls have Sen. Barack Obama ahead of Sen. John McCain in Nevada. An InsiderAdvantage/Poll Position survey of 437 likely voters has Obama up 48 to 47 percent. A CNN/Time Magazine poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp. has the Illinois senator up 51 to 47 percent among likely voters, and 54 to 43 percent among all registered voters.

With young voters and people who didn't make it to the polls in 2004 overwhelmingly supporting Obama, it's not unreasonable to assume that likely voter polls are underestimating Obama's support. Among the criteria used to determine voting likelihood is past voter behavior. Factor in people missed by pollsters entirely -- like cell-phone only users -- and the race might be less of a nail biter than it appears.

"The national polls have moved in Obama's direction since the beginning of the financial crisis," Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "The state polls are following the national polls."

New figures show Democrats hold just shy of 94,000 voter registration advantage over Republican; in Washoe County, Republicans' registration lead has fallen to just 1,997. More than 40,000 Washoe County voters are registered non-partisan.

"I can say public polls show 80 percent of people in this country feel things are headed in the wrong direction. Independent voters see a clear choice in this election," Jeff Giertz, an Obama campaign spokesman, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

But Heidi Smith, county Republican Party chairwoman, told the Gazette-Journal that many independents are Republicans who just don't want to declare their party. Interesting theory.

Obama's ground game helped spur the recent turnaround in the polls and sparked the surge in new registrations. "What you see in Nevada is what we've been seeing all across the country so far. [The Obama] campaign has an overwhelming number of volunteers and organizers on the ground," Sean Quinn, a reporter with the political website fivethirtyeight.com, told the Christian Science Monitor.

CSM reporter Ben Arnoldy followed around both campaigns in Las Vegas. Arnoldy noted that in the office, McCain phonebankers used an automated system that allowed them to move through their lists at least twice as fast. "The real ace in the hole from the McCain camp's perspective is their high-tech, streamlined approach,"Arnoldy wrote.

Unfortunately, their perceived advantage didn't always translate to the street, leading Arnoldy to conclude that "if the McCain campaign had a database advantage, it wasn't on display on a recent weekend in Las Vegas. Six out of nearly 40 doors knocked on one McCain canvass turned out to be wrong, while an Obama canvasser just encountered one vacant home."

Among the Obama volunteers in Nevada are hundreds from solidly-blue California. "More visibility of enthusiasm for Obama is a good thing," University of California, Santa Cruz, professor of politics Bob Meister told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. But he warns out-of-towners could rub some Nevadans the wrong way.

"I'm not going to be wearing a sign that says I'm from California, but I'll be telling them why I've come to do this," said retired school teacher and Obama volunteer Dennis Connors in the Sentinel.

Arnoldy also encountered Californians in the Silver State, something local Obama staffers didn't exactly highlight. He writes:

The presence of out-of-state help was a detail the Obama campaign went to some lengths to mask. A campaign press official -- who himself initially refused to divulge he was from California -- cornered [Obama volunteer] Mr. James before an interview in an effort to get him to play down his origins. But no one who answered his knocks in Las Vegas seemed bothered by James's California-ness.

In a personal essay on AlterNet, Patricia McBride writes about why she travelled to Nevada where she knocked on 51 doors in 115 degree heat:

I hadn't knocked on the door of someone I didn't know since I sold Girl Scout cookies in the sixth grade... I don't bother strangers. I don't particularly like it when strangers knock on my door. I'm essentially friendly, and I'm pretty smart, but the truth is I'm painfully shy and at heart a very private person. Were it not for the fact that I love my child and that I love my country deeply, and I fear what it has become, I'd really be very content to stay home and live as much like a hermit as possible. But that simply isn't an option this year.

And what about McCain's California supporters? McCain spokesman Rick Gorka told the Orange County Register they have no plans to bring in volunteers from California now, but they might closer to election day. George Andrews, executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County, said the local GOP chapter was focused on local efforts to deliver a resounding win for McCain in "America's Most Republican County." Rather than help their candidate in a state that matters, it looks like they're going for a consolation booby prize -- best McCain margin in a blue state.