My column: Why Romney hasn't surrendered Nevada

Mitt Romney campaigned in Nevada today for the second consecutive day. The question is: Why?

Any reasonable analysis of the early voting numbers so far shows that the Democratic machine is crushing the Republicans’ Rube Goldberg contraption. In Clark County, the Democrats have a 25,000-voter lead. Even in Washoe County, the Democrats are holding their own.

Why can’t Mitt get the message? As Boz Scaggs once crooned: Why pretend? This is the end.

But is it over here in Nevada?

The answer: Not quite yet.

There are various theories as to why Romney is still campaigning here and why his team and outside groups are spending a fortune in the final two weeks. And some of it – maybe a lot of it – may have more to do with races below the top of the ticket.

I believe that some people in Romney's organization believe the state can be won. They are happy that Republicans are turning out better than in 2008, even though that is an awfully low bar because there really was no race here after John McCain all but gave up and it was a wave election.

I have been reliably told that Romney’s internals in Nevada show him up a point – but some of those folks are smart enough to give the margin of error to the Democratic machine. But that makes it a race, so they aren’t going anywhere.

(Obama's polls here consistently have shown him up by 5-8 points. Mark Mellman, who consistently showed Harry Reid winning in 2010, is doing those surveys.)

As I have reported ad nauseam, the math looks ominous for Romney with the registration and early voting turnout. But it’s not insurmountable math. If Republicans can turn out in much greater numbers during the second week of early voting and on Nov.6 and if Romney can decisively win independents, he could pull off a squeaker.

Some GOP strategists I respect clearly believe that is a possible scenario. And Republicans, despite my irresistible mockery, do have a ground game this cycle, albeit not close to the Reid machine.

There also are outside groups on the air (Crossroads, especially) and on the ground (Americans for Prosperity and a few others) who are doing more here than 2008. Again, a low bar, but they have leapt over it. But these folks can’t fix the Hispanic problem or the registration problem for Romney and the Republicans; they can only hope to contain it.

Can they mitigate the natural demographic deficits and save the state, if not for Romney, for Sen. Dean Heller, Rep. Joe Heck, Danny Tarkanian and Republicans seeking to control the state Senate? (Heck is considered a favorite by both sides, but the new seat is seen as up for grabs, with Tark seen as barely holding on now as Democrats coalesce. And the state Senate is a true toss-up, with Republicans needing to win four of five seats and now deeply concerned their candidates could be washed away by registration and turnout.)

I think Romney also is playing here because he can – the money is there – and because he needs to, as one wag put it, “show off for his investors,” including Sheldon Adelson. This is about what happens after the election, too, even if Romney becomes president and has lost Nevada. He at least has to give it the old college try.

As one GOP strategist put it, “Everyone here knows that if the Obama margin is substantial, that it affects every other race. Another reason why the spend is so enormous and they (Team Romney) refuse to pull out. (So an) ‘outside shot’ at the presidency, but this is about more than just POTUS.”

Indeed. Romney may pull off an upset. But he can win the presidency without Nevada, and he doesn’t want it said that he skedaddled and cost Heller et. al. And many of these outside groups want to play here in 2014 and beyond, so they are making a play down the ticket, too.

If you want to know the cynical truth, I believe top thinkers in both parties have believed all year that the most likely result is Obama-Heller in Nevada. And while both might have something to be upset about if that is the outcome, that is what they have long expected to happen here.