Upset brewing in Nevada -- in both Senate and presidential races?

Last week, I noted that Nevada polling for Donald Trump painted a brighter picture for Republicans than national numbers suggested. The missteps that drove Trump’s numbers down nationwide didn’t seem to have impacted his standing in Nevada at all, and it appeared Hillary Clinton could lose a state Barack Obama won easily twice. Yesterday, Jon Ralston offered an in-depth look into the state of the race for Politico, as well as the fight to fill Harry Reid’s soon-to-be-vacant seat in the Senate. Ralston offered Republicans more good news than they’ve heard in a while, although it may not last:

In other battleground states, where Donald Trump is trailing his Democratic rival by large margins, Trump has proved problematic for down ballot candidates like Mark Kirk in Illinois and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who are taking pains to keep him at arms length on the trail. But in Nevada the volatile and unorthodox GOP presidential nominee has kept the gap with Hillary Clinton within the margin of error. As a result, Rep. Joe Heck, the Republican Senate candidate who is battling Reid’s chosen candidate Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, has not treated the brash mogul as if he is a leper.

Could a state with a robust Hispanic population, which may make up a fifth of the November electorate, and a significant Democratic voter registration edge, which gave Barack Obama easy victories in 2008 and 2012, fall to Trump? Are Nevada voters so independent that Republicans could snatch the one seat they covet the most this cycle, the one held since 1986 by the man they love to hate? Could Republicans maintain their hold on the senate by dealing the retiring Reid a stunning blow to his cherished legacy?

There’s nearly universal agreement among experts from parties that the Republicans could pull off just such an upset. The vigorous attention of both campaigns indicate their internal polls show the same. Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, Donald Trump and Mike Pence all were in Nevada during the last 10 days.

It’s clear that the Clinton campaign, despite President Obama’s easy victories in 2008 and 2012, believes Trump could win here. “I had wondered what the Clinton camp was seeing, but the fact they haven’t cut their TV buy after doing so in Colorado says they must be seeing a close race, too,” said one GOP campaign veteran.

Jon has one caveat on all of this, which relates to Nevada voter engagement. Even more so than in other states, Nevadans wait until later in the cycle to get serious about elections, so polling right now might not provide an indicative look at the potential outcomes. Democrats have a registration advantage plus they practically own Clark County. However, if these trends hold up into September, then Democrats may be in serious trouble — and they’re already campaigning as though they believe they are.

Earlier today, I spoke with Jon about both races, and the factors in Nevada that will impact those outcomes:

Jon calls the Trump campaign in Nevada “non-existent,” but the RNC and outside groups have managed to pick up the slack, at least thus far. The state Republican Party has little organizational strength, but in 2014 the outside conservative non-profit Engaged Nevada helped the GOP win the voter-registration battle.

In a presidential cycle, that outside strength may not be enough to help Trump win the presidency, but it could be enough to get Joe Heck over the finish line for Harry Reid’s US Senate seat. Jon tells me that Heck has a much better organization and has gotten off to a fast start in defining his Democratic opponent Catherine Cortez Masto as a corrupt establishment politician. That’s not a difficult sell when Harry Reid is taking a high-profile role as a surrogate, and Heck is making the most of it … so far, anyway.

Most of this will depend on turnout models and post-Labor Day engagement. Jon doesn’t expect Hillary Clinton to do as well as Barack Obama, and that may end up hurting Cortez Masto in the Senate race if the blue-collar electorate turns out strong for Trump. Nevada might make the difference for control of the Senate, if not the White House.

Update: “Put” should have been “for” in the first sentence; I’ve corrected it.

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