This is not 2008

This is not 2008.

That statement may seem obvious. But partisans looking for an advantage in the run-up to the election insist on using the last presidential election as a baseline (Republicans) or an outlier (Democrats) for 2012. This is nonsense.

Four years ago in Nevada, Democrats were an ebullient bunch. Thanks to Democrat Numero Uno, Harry Reid, they had secured an early presidential caucus, registered 30,000 people in one day and were infused with the spirit of hope and change. The Democratic machine didn’t need to turn on these voters – they fairly leapt into the cars and buses (thanks, Culinary!) – and Barack Obama destroyed John McCain by nearly 124,000 votes in Clark County on his way to a 12 percentage point landslide in the state.

The only similarity between now and that wave election is that the state Republican Party is still looking for the upgrade to laughingstock. But unlike McCain, who barely made an effort here and had no real ground force, the Mitt Romney campaign, in tandem with the Republican National Committee, has managed a fairly effective workaround. The so-called Team Nevada folks are populated with smart, knowledgeable staffers, led by veteran Chris Carr, and they have given the effort at least the patina of credibility. But since early voting began 10 days ago, these folks and their national counterparts have behaved as if 2008 and 2012 were like comparing Delicious and Macintosh to show just how red this year was going to be in Nevada.

This is not 2008.

By contrast, the Democrats have adopted a don’t-worry-be-happy façade this cycle to make it seem as if the Reid machine is whirring as efficiently as four years ago. Their spinning is that they have won every day in Clark (where they had an 83,000-vote lead in early voting last cycle), they are keeping the Republicans at bay in Washoe (it’s almost dead even) and the high rural vote will peter out by Election Day. But they know that Obama will not win Nevada by 12 points this cycle and that every vote they bank they may need to hold off the tide in the worst economy in America, where hope and change have become disappointment and despair.

Which brings me to the state of play in Nevada as I write this.  The Democrats have a 35,000-vote lead statewide and more than 50,000 in Clark, as you can see here. That’s not nearly where they were four years ago, but they are still on track to get above 60,000 by the end of early/mail balloting in Clark and they are keeping Washoe close. If Obama can win Clark County by half of what he won it in 2008 – i.e., 60,000 votes – and the Democrats come close in Washoe, Obama will still win Nevada by 3 points or so.

This is not 2008.

The Republicans, who are in the tough spot of making the case that they are winning by losing by less, have been spinning this tale since two weekends ago. Their turnout is up from 2008 – of course. It's as if they are making the case that because they have improved their standing since losing in a landslide, that means Romney will take Nevada. Today on a media conference call, Romney political director Rich Beeson told reporters that the Democrats have to get to an 80,000 vote lead by the end of early voting or they are toast.

Of course, Beeson’s math is flawed, although my guess is he and others making the case for Romney believe it. The Democrats do not have to get to the same early vote lead they had in 2008 because….well, have I said it enough times yet? The metrics the RNC/Romney types are using are all about four years ago, as you can see from this memo. Generally, the facts are not in dispute: Republicans are turning out better than four years ago, but they were badly outregistered by Democrats this year (Republicans are behind by 90,000 voters) and the GOP effort was essentially nonexistent during the last presidential cycle.

This is not 2008.

It is the RNC memo’s last indicator that negates everything else in there: “Over 82,000 independents have already voted or have ballots in hand. PPP (10/24) shows Romney leading among independents by 9 points.” Obama won nonpartisans handily four years ago, and no one on either side expects that to happen again. But – and I apologize for burying the lede because the set-up was necessary – no poll I trust shows Romney crushing Obama with independents. Indeed, pollsters on both sides of the aisle who understand Nevada have found unaffiliated voters breaking within the margin of error for the candidates. One of the post-mortems I expect to write about this election is the continuing trend of Nevada independents becoming less conservative. Without a smashing independent win here, Romney cannot take Nevada because of that large Democratic registration advantage. (I don’t think a 9-point margin will be nearly enough for Romney to offset the advantage the Democrats will have because of base loyalty and that registration edge.)

So Obama clearly has an edge here, mostly because of the Democratic registration advantage they knew had to be widened because of the different atmospherics from four years ago, but also because the president is holding his own with independents. Romney, though, could win the state while McCain never had a chance, mostly because of the improved (how could it not be?) GOP effort and for one other reason:

This is not 2008.