By Dave Andrusko
Jon Ralston is a veteran reporter in Nevada. Having covered local politics for over 30 years, he has been referred to more than once as the dean of the political corps.
With that as background his Tuesday column in The Atlantic — “Why a Blue-Leaning Swing State Is Getting Redder” — makes for a fascinating read. The subhead prepares you for where he will eventually come down: “Joe Biden’s standing in Nevada probably isn’t as bad as polling suggests. But Democrats should still be worried.”
Sunday’s New York Times/Siena poll really roiled the waters. We’ve talked about it several times. It found Biden and former President Donald Trump tied at 47% each but also “Trump Leads in 5 Critical States as Voters Blast Biden, Times/Sienna Poll Finds.”
The Times/Siena data show Donald Trump ahead of Biden in Nevada 52 percent to 41 percent, a much larger margin than the former president’s lead in the other battleground states. Could this be true? I’m skeptical, and I’m not alone. … But Nevada is going to be competitive, perhaps more so than ever.
Why is Nevada going to be “completive”?
Some of the Times/Siena poll’s internal numbers gave me pause. Among registered voters in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located and where 70 percent of the electorate resides, the poll found Trump ahead of Biden 50–45. But Democrats make up 34 percent of active voters in the county, compared with Republicans’ 25 percent, and Biden won Clark by nine percentage points in 2020.
Then there’s the economy which was devastated by COVID:
Fairly or not, President Biden wears a lot of that too, as all presidents do when voters are unhappy with the economy. The Morning Consult/Bloomberg poll illuminated the bleak pessimism of Nevada voters, 76 percent of whom think the U.S. economy is going in the wrong direction.
Long term trends are good for Democrats, either:
In 2020, Nevada was the only battleground state that saw worse Democratic performance compared with 2016, unless you include the more solidly red Florida. Nevada’s new Republican governor, Joe Lombardo, is building a formidable political machine. Republicans have made inroads with working-class white voters here, leaving Democrats with an ever-diminishing margin of error.
And, then there’s the thought that there may be leakage in core groups that make up the Democratic coalition:
In Nevada, and in general, Biden is losing support among key groups—young and nonwhite voters. The Times/Siena poll found Biden and Trump tied among Hispanics in the state, despite the fact that Latinos have been a bedrock of the Democratic base here for a decade and a half. In the 2022 midterms, polls taken early in the race showed Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate, losing Hispanic support, though her campaign managed to reverse that trend enough to win by a very slim margin.
Ralston includes the necessary cautionary note–that we are still almost exactly a year from the 2024 presidential election. His last paragraph reads
Democrats clearly hope that if Trump becomes the Republican nominee, many voters will see the election as a binary choice and will back Biden. But if the election instead becomes a referendum on Biden’s tenure, including the economy he has presided over, Trump could plausibly win Nevada—and the Electoral College.