Republican Mark Amodei, Democrat Kate Marshall, and American Independent Tim Fasano face off at a debate in Reno. (Julie Dawes/AP Photo)

State Treasurer Kate Marshall (D) faces former state Sen. Mark Amodei (R) in a special election on Sept. 13 for the 2nd district seat previously held by now-Sen. Dean Heller (R), who was appointed to replace John Ensign in the Senate.

Early voting began in the special began Saturday, and so far it looks good for Republicans. In three of the most populous counties of the district — Carson City, Douglas, and Washoe — Republican turnout beats Democratic turnout 5,433 to 3,426 with 1,125 independent/other voters. Turnout in Clark County has also been low and trended Republican. If you add in absentee ballots, things look even worse for Marshall.

As we’ve written before, special elections have little predictive power Still, both sides are looking to this race for signs of what messages will resonate with voters in 2012. That’s particularly true given that unemployment is close to 13 percent in Nevada and the state continues to reel from the home-foreclosure crisis.

Nevada Democrats say they’re not discouraged by the early vote totals..

“Just because a Republican is voting doesn’t mean they’re voting for Mark Amodei,” said Marshall campaign spokesman James Hallinan. He added that early voting has just begun: “Right now the folks that are voting are the very traditional voters” — in this GOP-heavy district, that means Republicans.

A Democrat has not won this district since it was first drawn in 1981, and registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats 172,281 to 141,330. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won by only 88 votes here in the 2008 presidential election. And Democrats pulled off an upset in an even more Republican district in upstate New York earlier this year.

National Democratic support for Marshall provides mixed signals.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is in the district Tuesday for three events. Former President Bill Clinton lent his name to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraising email.

But the DCCC nor any major Democratic outside groups have spent any significant money in the race even as the National Republican Congressional Committee has dropped about $600,000. The conservative group American Crossroads has spent another $250,000 against Marshall.

Democrats argue that the amount of money Republicans have disbursed in a normally safe district is a sign of voter discontent with the GOP agenda.

“In the most Republican-leaning district in the state, Republicans and their outside groups are pushing the panic button and spending more than $850,000 to defend their own seat,” said DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson.

Yet Republicans have succeeded in keeping Medicare from becoming a wedge issue here as it was in New York.

Democrats have attacked Amodei for praising the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but he has skillfully distanced himself from the controversial Medicare overhaul, with his own mother defending him in ads.

“We anticipated that they would try to run the NY-26 record,” said Peter DeMarco, Amodei’s campaign spokesman, referencing a Democratic special election victory earlier this year. “At some point you have to be for something.”

The crux of the fight between the two candidates has been inflated claims over fiscal records, not health care policies. Amodei blamed Marshall for the state’s lousy economy; Marshall blamed Amodei for a $833 million state tax increase.

Special elections are odd creatures due to unpredictable turnout patterns — particularly when the election comes just 8 days after Labor Day.

But, the lack of spending by Democrats suggests that they view the race as something short of a sound political investment. And that could doom Marshall’s chances of pulling off the upset.


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