By Cynthia Johnston
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Voters in Nevada go to the polls next week to elect a replacement for U.S. Representative Dean Heller in a largely Republican rural district that has never sent a Democrat to Congress.
Early voting in the September 13 Congressional special election, called after Heller was named to a vacant Senate seat, appeared to indicate a strong advantage for Republican Mark Amodei above Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall.
"The race appears to be over. It would take a miracle for Kate Marshall to win right now. My expectation is that she will lose and she will lose badly," said Jon Ralston, a Nevada political analyst who publishes a daily political newsletter.
Voting statistics tallied by the Nevada Secretary of State's office showed more than 36,000 registered Republicans had already cast early ballots in the race, outnumbering Democrats who had voted by more than 13,000. The statistics did not show who the voters cast ballots for.
The race in a traditional Republican area was not expected to serve as a bellwether for national politics.
Before the recession, a population boom was accompanied by a surge in Democratic voters in Nevada, long a swing state in national polls with a libertarian bent. Nevada, at the epicenter of the country's housing crisis, reported the highest jobless rate in the country in July at 12.9 percent.
Some of the counties in the second district, which encompasses most of Nevada outside the more urban and Democratic-leaning Las Vegas area, were hard hit by the recession.
CAMPAIGN ON ECONOMY, JOBS
Amodei's campaign has emphasized his opposition to what his spokesman described as the "failed economic policies" of Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who won a hard-fought reelection battle last year.
"Voters have indicated that they don't like the direction the country is going. They don't feel that the president and this administration has done anything to help their economic situations. They are not seeing job creation or economic recovery here. I think that is certainly showing in the results so far," said Peter DeMarco, spokesman for Amodei's campaign.
Marshall's campaign said she was counting on a targeted get-out-the-vote strategy especially among senior citizens, whom she has courted strongly.
Marshall, who has distanced herself from some of Obama's policies including health care, has stressed her support for entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare while promoting her jobs credentials.
"We think we are going to have our strong Democratic support, but we again point to the fact that there are a lot of seniors in this district and it doesn't matter what party affiliation they may be," said James Hallinan, Marshall's communications director.
The Reno Gazette-Journal, while it said Marshall would serve the district well, has endorsed her Republican opponent, a former state senator, to replace Heller, who retained his seat in the district in 2010 with over 63 percent of the vote.
Nevada's Republican governor named Heller to serve out the term of Senator John Ensign, who resigned this year after admitting to an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer.
Ensign admitted to having an affair in 2008 with Cynthia Hampton, who worked for his campaign and whose husband was a legislative aide to the senator.
The Nevada race is one of two special elections for House seats on September 13. The other is to replace former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned his New York City seat after a scandal involving his sending lewd photographs of himself online to young women.
(Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Greg McCune)