Destination 270

SMU Students Analyze the 2012 Presidential Election

How Heller Beat the Odds

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Despite incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller’s lead in the polls leading up to Election Day, many were still apprehensive about his re-election success. These worries stemmed mostly from the achievement and power of the Democratic voter turn out machine in Nevada. Although, Heller beat the odds and won the Senate seat, the qualms about his chances were not mistaken as Democrats in the state won victories with the election of President Barack Obama, Congressman-elect Steven Horsford and other Democratic legislative candidates that kept Democrats in control of the state Legislature.

However, Dean Heller still proved to be a Republican able to beat an extremely organized Democratic Party in Nevada.

Democrats argue that Heller did not beat the machine but rather ran against a weak opponent, Shelley Berkeley, who was brought down by ethics charges. This argument is not completely false, as Heller didn’t win over a majority of the electorate. A record number of voters disliked both candidates and voted “none of the above.”

Despite how he won, Heller still beat the sought after Democratic turn out machine in Nevada. Let’s take a closer look at how he did it:


Heller won the Senate seat by making some extremely strategic decisions regarding voter turn out. These decisions could prove to be extremely helpful for Nevada Republicans in the coming years. Republicans in the state are currently facing a dilemma, as they need to find a way to relate to the increasing amount of Hispanic voters while still maintaining the base and somehow beat the Democratic voter registration advantage. If Republicans cannot due this, some fear that Nevada will become a solid blue state.

Republicans in Nevada this year attempted to build their own voter turnout machine to combat the Democratic machine in Nevada. This machine was named Team Nevada. Even though Team Nevada did not win the state for Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, it still exceeded expectations. The Heller campaign chose not to rely solely on Team Nevada.

Instead, the Heller campaign set their sights on nonpartisans and soft Democrats. Heller campaign manager, Mac Abrams, said of this choice, “It’s a part of the equation. When you’re down by 7 points, where are you going to make that up? Independents. It’s simple mathematics. They are a powerful percentage in the make up of the electorate.”

The Heller campaign researched the names of all newly registered independents. These groups were registering at a faster clip than either Democrats or Republicans for much of the season. After gathering these names, the Heller campaign relentlessly called and visited voters at their doorsteps. They focused much of their time in the influential Washoe County.

Dean Heller himself also made a large effort to be available to voters. Heller sat on a conference call with hundreds of independent voters twice a week.

Ryan Erwin, a Republican consultant, believes that the ability to separate oneself from the larger GOP is key in a state like Nevada. Erwin believes this may be hard for Democrats in the state given Harry Reid’s dominance.

Erwin is optimistic about Republicans future in Nevada as he said, “Team Nevada was the best turnout effort we’ve had. We’re just not as good at it as the Democrats yet. But campaigns have to do their own thing, too.”

Come Election Day, the Heller campaigns efforts to woo Independent voters clearly paid off with exit polls showing he beat Berkley with this group by 20 points.

Heller’s victory in the state is a great sign for the GOP. His win comes at a time when many are already beginning to question any Republican’s chances of winning in Nevada in 2016.

During the next four years, pay close attention to the growth of Team Nevada. Republicans in Nevada know this a crucial time and will likely use the next four years to build their machine as capable of beating the Democratic machine in Nevada.


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