By Mark Waite
Members of the Nye County Democratic Party cheered during a party at a private residence near West Calvada Boulevard when news popped up on television about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday that President Barack Obama won re-election.
The Democratic Party in 2008 launched an effort to campaign in every region, even heavily Republican ones like Nye County. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D.-Fla., the chairman of the National Democratic Party, commemorated the opening of the Obama for President office in Pahrump back in August.
Given the red county, Chris Rork, who worked on political campaigns in Denver, must have felt like a fish out of water when he arrived in Pahrump last August to spearhead the local Obama campaign. But he was pleased with the results, even though a core group of Nye County voters representing at least 55 percent, voted Republican at the top of the ticket.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney soundly defeated President Barack Obama in Nye County, capturing 60.3 percent of the vote, while Obama won the statewide vote 52.3 percent to 45.73 percent. U.S. Senator Dean Heller, R-Nev., won 55.3 percent of the Nye County vote, more than his razor-thin statewide margin of victory over U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
Republican Danny Tarkanian won 56.27 percent of the Nye County vote in his unsuccessful race against State Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas for the new congressional district four race.
“The Obama campaign had an organizer in Nye County and to my knowledge the Romney campaign didn’t. That reflected our strategy. It’s not we’re not going to go into Nye County because it traditionally votes Republican, we’re going to go into every community in every part of the state to organize instead of a traditional strategy or just going into areas that support us and try to turn them out heavily. We had organization in Mesquite, Boulder City and places that are also traditionally Republican,” Rork said.
Local Democrats made relationships that will pay off longer after he leaves, Rork said.
“We seek any ground in this election and I think it paid off big in that when I leave, there will be an organization that is committed for the visions our president laid out,” he said.
The Democrats worked out of a tiny office in the Charlotta Mall that was formerly a hotel room, without computers and other infrastructure most campaign offices built, Rork said.
“We built an organization that made thousands of calls on election day. Whether we won or not in Nye County, I think we were able to form an organization here that was quite effective,” he said.
The trends that changed Nevada blue are changing demographics, Rork said, like an increase in Hispanic voters.
Statewide, the early vote took Nevada off the plate for Romney, building up a Democratic fire wall in one of the several battleground states, he said.
“We’re people centered and data driven. The techniques that we used for turning out votes or recruiting volunteers or contacting voters have been really culled over the last five and a half years. It really is the most sophisticated campaign organization I’ve ever worked on,” Rork said. “It’s really something to behold how we’re able to contact people. A lot of it is the way we’re able to target voters.”
Democrats targeted everyone under the sun, but didn’t cede any ground with Republican women or Hispanic voters, he said.
Rork said volunteers in Pahrump made thousands of calls, he has a stack of call sheets a foot and a half high. Democrats from all over the country also helped turn out the vote in the battleground states, he said, they only lost North Carolina among those battlegrounds.
“They had quite a registration advantage in Nye County but we worked extremely hard around voter registration around the state and we made that advantage. It wasn’t as great as it was before our work, we did a great job of making that advantage with registered voters and then turning them out,” Rork said.
Republicans gained 820 registered voters in Nye County in the past two years and 1,196 since the last presidential election in 2008. Democrats lost 121 registered voters since 2010 and 617 since 2008.
Rork’s main regret was Berkley’s loss, after a nasty campaign.
“It was a pretty dirty race that went on, especially with the advertising. The TV advertising was just really intense,” Rork said. “Most of the voters say I hate negative advertisements but when they walk out and do an exit poll and they ask why they voted for someone they’ll mention the last couple negative advertisements they saw.”