Now that we’ve had five days of in-person early voting and almost two weeks’ worth of vote-by-mail (VBM) returns, I’m feeling a little more confident about the direction this election is heading here in Nevada. However, we must keep in mind that it’s still early.
While we know who’s winning early voting so far, the more intriguing question is whether one side will secure a big enough early voting victory to count as “insurance” for whatever happens on November 3.
Ignore the spin. Here’s the reality: Republicans are winning in-person early voting, but Democrats are winning vote-by-mail by much more.
When we look at the Nevada Secretary of State’s official early voting report, Democrats’ 60,000+ raw vote lead appears to be clearly good news for them. The official count shows the statewide Democratic lead just under 60,000, but doesn’t include the most recent Clark County update, and it may not include all of yesterday’s updates from the rural counties.
However when I speak with some Democratic insiders, I still notice some jitters and raw nerves. What’s with this disconnect? Politico recently looked into this. But if you prefer not to sift through another typical Politico story full of spin from various “campaign strategists”, just take notice of the crosstabs in this week’s Quinnipiac, New York Times/Siena, and Redfield & Wilton national polls. Even though all show Joe Biden beating Donald Trump by comfortable margins (Biden +9% in NYT/Siena, Biden +10% in Quinnipiac, and Biden +11% in R&W) overall, all these polls also show Trump holding huge leads amongst voters who are waiting until November 3 to cast their ballots. The fear here is that if Trump manages to turn out even more supporters on the traditional election day, then he can potentially wipe out whatever advantage Biden has amongst early voters.
Can that happen? Yes, it can. Will that happen? We won’t know for sure until November, but keep in mind that even with these and other polls showing Trump winning big among late voters, Biden’s still ahead overall. As I alluded to on Monday, and as The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston explains so well on his early voting blog, Nevada Democrats have traditionally built a “firewall” of an early vote lead in order to withstand a more Republican-friendly traditional election day electorate.
We’re seeing that materialize again this year, with the key difference being Republicans pulling ahead in in-person early voting while Democrats dominate VBM. But again, as long as Democrats continue to build enough of an overall early voting advantage, there probably won’t be enough of a Republican onslaught on November 3 to cancel that out.
Let’s play our turnout game again. This should help explain why Trump is in a real bind here in Nevada.
Let’s revisit the hypothetical turnout scenario that we constructed on Monday. If total Nevada voter turnout tops 1.22 million this year, then a little over 37% of ballots have already been cast according to today’s 11:10 AM report from the Secretary of State’s office combined with the most recent Clark County turnout numbers. (In real life, we’re already past 40% of total 2016 turnout.) So far with nearly ⅜ of the votes in, Trump has inched up a bit, but he’s still just above 40% after we give him all the Republicans and 40% of the Nonpartisans. Meanwhile, Biden’s around 55% once we give him 40% of the Nonpartisans and all the Democrats.
In order for Trump to reach our hypothetical “win number” of 586,000 votes (or 48% of the total vote), he now needs to win at least 52.5% of the remaining votes. But according to this month’s New York Times/Siena and CBS/YouGov polls, just over 75% of Nevada voters plan to vote early.
If 75% of total turnout ends up being from (in-person and VBM combined) early voting, then Trump will need to win a whopping 72% of the remaining 25% of traditional election day voters to hit his “win number” if the early vote remains 55%-40% Biden. But if Republicans gain more ground during the next eight days and narrow the total early voting electorate to just 52%-44% Biden, then Trump will “only” need to win 60% of the remaining 25% of traditional election day voters to hit his “win number”.
What’s happening down-ballot?
Probably next week, we’ll go into more detail on what’s happening beyond the presidential race. As we saw in 2016, and as we saw again in 2018 (with the U.S. Senate and Gubernatorial races serving as the top of the ticket), what happens at the top is likely the most important determining factor in who wins the Congressional and legislative races.
The good news for Republicans is that down-ballot Republican candidates like NV-03’s Dan Rodimer appear to be consolidating Trump voters quite effectively. The bad news for Republicans is that as long as Democrats continue to bank so many early votes, and as long as they’re managing to consolidate 90% or more of the Biden voters for Reps. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) and the legislative candidates, then we’ll probably see another “Blue Wave” wash across the state.
If this chatter that’s largely based on private polling and anecdotal reports from the field bears out in real life, then Lee probably has less breathing room than she enjoyed in 2018 (when her 9% win was over double that of Rosen’s and Sisolak’s 4%+ margins in NV-03), but Horsford likely stands on very solid ground, as NV-04 has traditionally voted a little more to the left of NV-03.
The overall early voting leads suggest that Lee and Horsford are on track for reelection, and that Democrats are on track to at least maintain their big majorities in the Nevada Legislature. But if Republicans start gaining more ground in in-person voting than Democrats are scoring in VBM, Lee may be in trouble and Republicans might be able to win back some NV-Leg seats they lost in 2016 and 2018 (chiefly AD 31 in Washoe County, and AD’s 4 and 37 in Clark County). Meanwhile if Democrats’ VBM advantage continues to wipe out Republican in-person gains, then Lee and Horsford will probably coast to reelection as Democrats stand to possibly secure the ⅔ State Senate supermajority (watch SD 15 in Washoe and SD 18 in Clark) that barely eluded them in 2018 and expand the ⅔+ supermajority they already have in the Assembly (watch AD 2 in Clark).
For more information on how to vote this year, check out the Nevada Secretary of State’s comprehensive site explaining our various options. If you’re already registered to vote at your current address and you voted in 2018, you were probably mailed a ballot thanks to AB 4 becoming state law in August. Once you receive your ballot, you can either mail it in or turn it in at a secure drop-off site. If you still need to register for the first time or update your registration, you can either register to vote online now or at a local voting site. And for more information on how to vote this fall, NBC News and The Washington Post have great resource guides to keep on deck.