Photo By DENNIS MYERS Obama precinct workers in Sparks distributed flyers door by door over the weekend. The material was left in doorjambs where residents weren’t home. The Joe Biden appearance in Reno advertised on the top sheet was later postponed.

The notion of a smooth running, well oiled Obama machine does not necessarily survive a visit to its Reno headquarters.

For one thing, it keeps bankers’ hours. At about 8:45 a.m. on the day of the second presidential debate, there were only two people in the office—a press person who could not talk on the record with the press and a volunteer working the counter, who said, “Most of them come in about 9.”

So they did, sort of. Some came in—and out, going for coffee—after 9. The Reno office director was also not allowed to talk to the press. Later the office provided a written statement: “We’ve seen incredible enthusiasm on the ground here in Nevada and across the country to get President Obama reelected. Our volunteers are the heart of our campaign, and as we get closer to November, we’re seeing increasing enthusiasm from supporters across the country who are excited to get involved with the grassroots efforts we have here in Nevada.”

The assumption has been that if Nevada is a swing state, Washoe is the swing county (“Watching Washoe,” RN&R, Aug. 2). But the headquarters is not a bustling office. The word that comes more immediately to mind is sleepy, notwithstanding the “ONLY 21 DAYS AWAY” sign on one wall. It’s a sharp contrast to four years ago, when grass roots enthusiasm for Obama was thriving. Today, if this is a nerve center, there is considerable nerve numbness.

It didn’t help that the day started with the front page of USA Today—“Women push Romney into lead,” a piece that reported on a Gallup survey giving Mitt Romney a four point lead over Barack Obama. Women are an essential part of Obama’s vote, certainly in Nevada. In 2008, he received 59 percent of the votes of Nevada women. It’s hard to imagine his winning the state without them.

Since the first debate, the Obama campaign has appeared to be a pile of sand with the tide coming in. Erosion in his support has been steady among various groups.

So far, though, it has not yet reached the Latino community, which makes up about a fourth of Nevada’s population, and has been crucial in several recent races, such as the reelection of Harry Reid to the U.S. Senate. The Latino population of Nevada is 10 percentage points larger than the Latino population of the United States. After non-voters like children are culled from the total, Latinos make up more than 12 percent of eligible Nevada voters.

The greatest danger for Obama with Latino voters is turnout. Last year, the Pew Hispanic Center reported a survey that said 14.9 percent of Latinos believe voting doesn’t count and 25.8 percent said they usually were too busy with work or other conflicts to vote.

Sharp splits in the Nevada Republican Party this year were seen as an advantage for Obama. The state GOP was taken over by backers of Ron Paul, so Romney’s supporters effectively set up a different Republican Party, called Team Nevada, to support his candidacy.

Political analyst Fred Lokken suspects the Obama campaign was lulled by those events. He said he has been amazed at signs of new effectiveness in the Republican campaign.

Photo By DENNIS MYERS A sign in the Reno Obama headquarters is a reminder of urgency.

“They’re doing a better job of voter registration than they had been,” he said. “There are signs of better organization on the Republican side. This developed quietly and Obama forces were not aware of it.”

Can Obama win Nevada without women?

“I don’t think so,” Lokken said. “No, not at all. … I have tremendous suspicion about the validity of the Gallup poll, but there has been tremendous damage to the Obama campaign. But they do have time to put it back together.”

He said that opinion polling is showing signs of a hidden factor that, so far at least, has favored Democrats—an inability, because of changing technology, to detect some voters.

“You saw it in the polls in the Reid race [in 2010] suggesting one reality, but Reid won a very comfortable margin that had not shown up in the polls. … Any polling that is still using land lines is missing 30 percent of the public.”

It is likely that Obama’s national campaign will start to emphasize women’s and family issues in their Nevada efforts—such as education, health care and abortion—to try to move that group back toward him. Nevada, in spite of a high Catholic and the nation’s third highest Mormon population, voted in favor of abortion in 1990.

A lot of attention has been given to volunteers pouring into Nevada from out of state to help Obama. That, however, is mostly a weekend thing. How much precinct territory is being covered by the campaign during the week by local volunteers is not known.

While Obama’s supporters are hoping his debate appearance this week turns things around, Lokken points out that debate audiences have not been all that impressive.

“The first debate was annihilated by major league sports,” he said.

An estimated 67.2 million people watched the first debate, according to the Neilsen ratings service. While that was higher than the first debate four years ago, and is high for a political event, entertainment often gets higher ratings. Many voters reacted to the news coverage of the debate as much as to the debate. The vice presidential debate attracted 51.4 million viewers.

In one way, it is fortunate for Obama that it is women who are moving away from him. They have a record of staying loose later in the campaign, moving back and forth, willing to be shown. Romney’s soft sell in the first debate, with his constant references to bipartisanship, probably helped him with women. “The trust factor is picking up,” as Lokken put it. It probably also helped Romney in Washoe County, which has a tradition of moderate Republicanism that is often more liberal than espoused by Clark County Democratic politicians. In 2008 Obama actually won Washoe County by a slightly larger percentage than he won the state.

No one expects that to happen again, but merely winning the county—not the 12.6 percent margin he had four years ago, but just winning—would make it nearly impossible for Romney to win the state, given the heavy Democratic vote in populous Clark County. For Obama, Washoe would be gravy. For Romney, it’s meat and potatoes.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...