With most political eyes nationwide riveted on Republican Bob Turner’s stunning win in the special election for New York’s 9th District on Tuesday, one could be forgiven for overlooking the triumph of fellow GOPer Mark Amodei in the other special U.S. House race on Sept. 13.
But Amodei’s unexpected landslide (61% to 39%) over liberal Democrat Kate Marshall had ramifications beyond the borders of Nevada’s 2nd District. The victory of State Sen. and State Republican Chairman Amodei clearly demonstrated that Republicans are in fighting trim in the 2nd District—which was carried by Barack Obama in ’08 and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in ’10. Although the district has sent a Republican to the House since it was first created in 1982, the 2nd (northern Nevada) has, more often than not, been highly competitive and a Democratic target.
The special election gave state and national Democrats an opportunity to focus considerable firepower on the 2nd, and in Marshall, state treasurer and a proven winner statewide, the party had a first-rate candidate. Sen. Reid weighed in early for longtime friend and ally Marshall, and signed fund-raising letters for her almost as soon as she became the Democratic nominee.
The Marshall campaign also hit hard in television broadsides that linked Amodei to the budget plan crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and its controversial proposal for long-term reform of Medicare. Two weeks ago, a Public Policy Polling survey showed the GOP nominee edging out Marshall by only a wafer-thin 43% to 42% of the vote.
There is a strong case to be made that the poll energized many GOP workers as well as the Amodei campaign. Within a week, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that in the most Republican parts of the district, Carson City and Washoe County, early voting was surging. Most importantly, Amodei hit back with commercials underscoring that ObamaCare actually cut funding for Medicare and that he was committed to saving the system.
Rounding out the ad was the blessing of someone who made the ad unforgettable: Amodei’s 79-year-old mother.
With Amodei’s landslide win in District 2, the question now is whether his campaign and the enthusiasm it generated will carry over into the Senate race in 2012. Republican Dean Heller, whose appointment to the Senate created the need for the special election won by Amodei, will face liberal Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, whose connections to the Las Vegas business community guarantee a major campaign kitty.
Their contest is considered one of the few opportunities in the nation in which a Democrat has a chance of picking up a GOP-held Senate seat in 2012. Last month, a Public Policy Polling survey had Heller up by 3 percentage points statewide. One month before, a Magellen Poll had Berkley leading Heller by 2 percentage points statewide.
Simply put, this Senate contest is a tossup. Mark Amodei found himself playing defense over Medicare and in the race of his life for a House seat that was historically Republican. But Republicans, clearly sensing the national attention his defeat would engender, obviously worked overtime to ensure not only Amodei’s win, but a big win. In addition, the candidate demonstrated a touching way that Republicans could turn around the “Mediscare” threat with its message that “Mother Knows Best.”
Whether Mark Amodei’s win has an impact on Dean Heller’s very tight battle to hold the Senate seat will obviously be the major political story in Nevada in 2012.