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Nevada voters head to polls for special congressional election

September 13, 2011 | 12:00 pm

Mark Amodei and Kate Marshall

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Tuesday’s special congressional election in Nevada initially promised all sorts of political intrigue -- and the chance for Democrats to snag a seat that Republicans have held since its creation.

But a series of twists and turns appears to have stripped the race of dramatic potential: As voters cast ballots Tuesday, polls showed Republican Mark Amodei trouncing Democrat Kate Marshall by a double-digit margin.

The back story began in April, when Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign resigned amid a sex and lobbying scandal that stemmed from his extramarital affair with a former aide. Gov. Brian Sandoval appointed Rep. Dean Heller, a fellow Republican, to fill Ensign’s slot, opening up a congressional seat that represents Reno, Carson City and the so-called cow counties.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district by about 30,000 voters, and a recent poll showed only one-third of voters there approved of President Obama.

Sharron Angle, the “tea party” Republican who gained national prominence in her failed 2010 bid to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, initially dived into the race. But Angle -- a lightning-rod candidate whom Democrats welcomed -- dropped out after Secretary of State Ross Miller christened the special election a “ballot royale” in which anyone could run.

Democrats still saw a path to victory in a horde of Republicans splitting votes while Democrats rallied around a single candidate. But Nevada law regarding special elections was murky enough that Republicans successfully challenged Miller's interpretation of it in court. Instead of a “ballot royale,” the Nevada Supreme Court said, each party would nominate a single candidate.

That’s when the race became far more pedestrian.

Marshall, the state treasurer, went after Amodei on Medicare, a successful line of argument for Democrats in a May special election in New York. While Republicans there responded sluggishly, Amodei’s team quickly fired back -- with ads that showed him promising his mother, Joy, that he would defend the program. 

Marshall also essentially tried turning the race into a Republican primary. She blasted Obama's handling of the economy and lambasted Amodei for backing a tax increase when he was a state lawmaker.

According to polling, Marshall didn’t gain any ground. She didn't inspire Democratic turnout either. During early voting, 53% of people who cast ballots were Republicans, though Republicans comprise 43% of the district’s voters, the Las Vegas Review-Journal said.

Further, national Republicans poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race, while national Democrats kept their pocketbooks closed. A Public Policy Polling survey released this week showed the toll that has taken on Marshall. The Democrat was viewed negatively by roughly half of voters.

Should Marshall pull off a victory Tuesday, it might be considered the biggest surprise in a race that began with a lot of them.

[For the record, 9:10 p.m., Sept. 13: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Democrat Kate Marshall wouldn’t have voted to raise the debt ceiling. She said she would not have voted to raise the debt ceiling under a plan put forth by Republican House Speaker John Boehner.]


In Nevada, an early testing ground for 2012

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GOP hopes to sweep special elections in New York, Nevada

-- Ashley Powers in Las Vegas

Photos: Mark Amodei and Kate Marshall. Credit: Cathleen Allison /Associated Press