“He balled right across the desert in this manner, demonstrating various ways of how not to drive, how his father used to drive jalopies, how great drivers made curves, how bad drivers hove over too far in the beginning and had to scramble at the curve’s end, and so on. It was a hot, sunny afternoon. Reno, Battle Mountain, Elko, all the towns along the Nevada road shot by one after another…”
– Jack Kerouac, “On the Road”
This town is hopping. Clark County was always going to be where Democrats hoped to run up their edge enough to win the state. How do both sides feel about their ground game here? Kirstin Searer, Barack Obama's Communications Director, said that Democrats "feel extremely good about our ground game." Indeed, Democrats have gained over 100,000 registrations in Clark County, which helped net roughly 70,000 statewide in the last year. 30,000 new Democrats registered on caucus day alone. Democrats have 5 field offices in Clark County, 14 offices open in the state as a whole, with 3-5 more planned, 90 paid staff and 75 field organizers. Obama is on his way to this critical battleground tomorrow, with visits in Elko and Las Vegas.
Nevada Republican Party Executive Director Zach Moyle also feels strongly confident. Nevada Republicans have been winning on the ground for decades, and they expect it to continue. Until Democrats prove that they can turn out young voters in a non-caucus, Republicans like their chances. Moyle predicted that if Republicans were within three points in the polls here, their superior ground game would make the difference. Republicans have 12 statewide offices open now, with another office set to open in North Las Vegas in the immediate future. McCain's Henderson HQ was busy during our afternoon visit, with young and old, male and female, English and Spanish-speaking volunteers.
We came away impressed by both efforts. We visited all three McCain field offices open in Clark County, and three of Obama's five offices. We also stopped in over in Nye County at each side's Pahrump office. Obama's Pahrump office is here, his current Vegas offices are in the west here, southeast here, central here, and North Las Vegas here and here. McCain/Republican offices are here in Pahrump, here and here in western Vegas, and the HQ in Henderson is here.
Seven weeks out, this is anyone's game. Moyle noted that Republicans had long invested in the technologies necessary to run a strong ground campaign. There's no doubt the VoIP phones are more sophisticated, with the voter file instantly updated with the voter's responses, and Republicans have 200 lines statewide at the moment. Ground game-wise, the champ is still the champ until you knock him out.
Obama's campaign thinks it has a hell of a left hook here in Nevada. More than 3,500 volunteers have gone through specific precinct captain training, and each of these captains has specific contact and voter registration targets. The volunteer and organizer energy at the Obama offices here in Clark was humming. Searer pointed out that it's unprecedented for a Democratic presidential campaign to open offices in places like Elko, Lyon County and Douglas County. Republicans know they've always held off Democratic Clark County by running up lopsided margins in the smaller rural areas around the state. John Kerry won Clark by 36,430 votes in 2004, and Clark was 66% of the statewide vote. But Bush won Nevada by 21,500 because of the rural county edge.
Barack Obama won the delegate count despite losing the popular vote in Nevada's caucuses precisely because he ran so much stronger than Hillary Clinton in the rural counties. He's making a trip to Elko tomorrow, the place John McCain officially announced for President in 2007. In addition, volunteers from California, where a lot of Democrats live, have set up a sister district program, whereby Nevada organizers and volunteers are set up to receive and house volunteers from their neighboring state. Silicon Valley maps to Carson City, for example (I met volunteers in the Carson office after the Palin rally from the Peninsula). Los Angeles/Southern California maps to Vegas. Barack Obama's campaign just put out an email to its California volunteers asking them, "Will you take a short trip to Nevada to make a big difference for Barack?"
Republicans take in out-of-staters too. Busloads of BYU students as well as volunteers from Oregon and Phoenix will come pouring into the state for the final early voting push. Both sides, and the Nevada Secretary of State, expect to see 50% of the eventual vote turn out during the early voting period. We got the sense from Moyle that Republicans are going to know several days before Election Day whether they're going to win, because they already know who their voters are and they know they'll do their usual strong job. They'll be able to see turnout and where it's happening, in which precincts, and they'll know, even if the general public won't. It seemed like the Republican effort is on a set of train tracks: it's strong, organized and focused, but it's really up to the Democrats to prove that their voter registration will translate to a sea change.
Finally, you've undoubtedly noticed our upgraded photography department. Let me introduce you to Brett Marty, a 25-year old documentarian and professional photographer who's co-piloting our On the Road coverage. Brett once drove his '95 Buick from California to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, the end of the road. Apparently it's somewhere in Paraguay now. When we got in touch, he pointed out I might need another "wheel man." That – and the Argentina thing – pretty much did it. If you ever need to get your car through the Darién Gap, he knows a guy. Here's some of his other work, and you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.