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Is Washoe County, Nevada About To Flip Blue?

Washoe County, home of Reno and Sparks and 19% of Nevada’s vote, may be on the verge of having more registered Democrats than Republicans. It would be a stunning development.

As of September 18, the county registrar reported 87,971 registered Republicans and 84,705 registered Democrats, a gap of 3,266 (down from 5,648 at the end of the primaries).

But as of that update, more than 5,000 registration applications were in the queue.

If 82% of those are Democratic registrations (5 to 1), Washoe would now have more registered Democrats, with 17 days from the time of that update (Sept 18) through the close of mail-in registrations (Oct 4).

“Unlike any time I have seen in 30 years of doing this, there is a really aggressive move from one party,” (Washoe County’s Voter Registrar Dan) Burk said. “It’s really unusual to see this intense growth in such a short period of time.”

In 2004, registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats by approximately 17,000 voters. George Bush beat John Kerry by 6,696 votes in Washoe. The Republican formula for winning Nevada has been hold down their losses in Clark County, run up the lopsided score in rural counties that account for 13% of the vote, and win Washoe by several thousand votes.

There may be a little excuse-making going on.

Heidi Smith, chairwoman of the Washoe County Republican Party, said Democrats are gaining in the county because more than 48,000 Californians have moved here since the last election and bring their liberal views.

In fact, from 1999 to 2007, a net 27,873 Californians migrated into Washoe, 35% of new residents. (This is all residents, including many not of voting age.) The bottom line is that Obama’s new voter registration project has been going since well before the January 19 caucus. You simply cannot cram that kind of work into a few short weeks before a deadline, as the Republicans now appear to be trying.

One big question: how will the 30,377 independent voters swing? “Two Westerners versus a Midwesterner and an Easterner” was how preliminary speakers at Sarah Palin’s September 13 Carson City rally framed the race, and certainly that Western appeal will play well with Washoe independents. At the same time, Barack Obama performed strongly in northern Nevada during the caucuses, drawing many crossover voters.

We’ll keep an eye on Washoe County — a true swing county in Nevada. But the voter registration writing may be on the wall.