Republicans declared that ex-state GOP chairman Mark Amodei’s romp past Democrat Kate Marshall 58 percent to 36 percent Tuesday night was a clear referendum on the failed policies of President Obama, who carried the swing state of Nevada just three years ago by 12 percent.
“Mark Amodei’s election is a resounding rejection of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda of bigger, more expansive and overreaching government,” said Nevada GOP chairwoman Amy Tarkanian, daughter-in-law of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
“The message for President Obama is very clear: Order your moving boxes soon because you are about to be evicted along with those who are helping you destroy America,” added Roger Stockton, co-founder of the Western Representation PAC based in Sparks.
Democrats said that assessment is an over simplification that leads to a premature conclusion in the sprawling rural district that is home to one-third of the state’s voters and has been held by Republicans since it was created in 1981.
“As expected, that’s how they would spin the results,” said Pam duPre, executive director of the Washoe County Democratic Party based in Reno.
“But it is a very unique district and two-thirds of the voters in this state were not engaged in this race,” she said. “The 2012 statewide races are going to be very different. And people will be much more in tune with the presidential race.”
Amodei said his margin of victory was well received by Republican presidential contenders who’ll make their way to Nevada’s early caucuses on Feb. 18 if they make it through the first two tests in Iowa and New Hampshire. He said Mitt Romney telephoned to congratulate him Wednesday morning.
“I can tell you that campaign is very excited about the returns last night,” Amodei told Fox News. “They are looking forward to Nevada as a battleground state that could very well be red in 2012.”
If anything, the success of Amodei’s campaign reinforced the significance of Washoe County’s role in a state where Las Vegas and Clark County vote heavily Democrat and the rest of the rural state tilts overwhelmingly Republican.
Washoe County, long a Republican stronghold like the rest of the district, lately has become a swing county in the swing state.
Washoe County had 17,000 more Republicans than Democrats in 2000. That same year the GOP had a 45,000 person registration advantage across the 2nd District even as Democrats had an edge of 1,000 statewide.
By 2006, the Republican registration lead in Washoe County hovered at 16,000 and had grown to 50,000 in the 2nd District.
That year Republican Rep. Dean Heller won re-election in the 2nd District with 50 percent of the ballots — but Democratic challenger Jill Derby beat him in Washoe County by more than 4,000 votes (50 percent to 46 percent).
In 2008, the GOP’s advantage in the 2nd District dropped to 20,000, the Democrats took a lead of 100,000 statewide and even went ahead in Washoe County by about 1,500 registered voters. Obama ended up carrying both the state and Washoe County by the same margin of 55 percent to John McCain’s 43 percent.
But Tuesday night, Washoe County was back in the red in a big way as Amodei grabbed about 52 percent of the vote — 36,596 to Marshall’s 29,632 — even though the GOP registration advantage was less than 2,500.
“A 20-point margin is pretty big for a Republican even in this district,” said David Buell, chairman of the Washoe County Republican Party. “But a 10-point margin in Washoe County where we have a 2,000-vote edge and won it by over 7,000 votes — that’s a big message.”
Buell said the key to success for Republicans running statewide historically is “you have to come close in Clark County but in Washoe County you absolutely have to win.” On Tuesday night, Amodei even carried the sliver of Clark County in the 2nd District, 59 percent to 37 percent.
For their part, Marshall’s campaign team pointed to the steep challenge she faced given the large disparity in voter registration as well as campaign spending.
“This was a very tough race from the beginning,” said James Hallinan, her communications coordinator. “I don’t think that voter registration numbers lie.”
“Special interests and Washington outsiders put $1 million in this race to defeat Kate Marshall,” added Sam Lieberman, the past chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Hallinan refused to criticize national party leaders for taking a largely hands-off approach to the race and providing little financial support, but did acknowledge, “We certainly would have welcomed more money.”