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2018 Election Forecast: Ride That Wave

How’s that wave coming along? It’s unclear whether or not Nevada will experience a political tsunami, yet it is interesting to see Republicans keeping clear of the beach. Who could have guessed Lake Tahoe would become such a hot surf spot?

Anyhoo, let’s do some wave hunting as we break ground on our brand new 2018 election forecast, starting with all the federal races.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Ever since the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District (PA-18), there’s been a whole lot of talk about a possible Democratic wave building. This week, a new Public Policy Polling (PPP) national poll seems to confirm this talk, as it shows Democrats holding a solid 11% lead in the Generic Congressional Ballot (GCB). And while the overall GCB landscape may look better for Republicans, keep in mind that the historic midterm polling average does not.

What does this all mean? Long story short, Democrats are in a good position to take control of at least one house of Congress (most likely, the House of Representatives). While Nevada may not play all that large of a role in the race for the Speaker’s gavel, we may end up playing a very pivotal role if Democrats manage to pull a huge upset in winning control of the U.S. Senate.

Ratings Key

Tossup = This race is so close, it can very well go either way

Tilt = Still a Tossup, but one party or candidate has a very slight edge over the other(s)

Leans = Competitive, but one party or candidate has a clear advantage

Likely = One party or candidate has a more sizable advantage, though an upset is still in the cards

Safe = One party or candidate has such an overwhelming advantage over all the rest that the challenger(s) needs some kind of miracle to overcome and have any shot at winning

(Pro Tip: Daily Kos Elections and Ballotpedia are great resources for any and all election data!)

The trouble with Dean Heller

2016 Presidential Result: Trump (R) 46%, Clinton (D) 48%

2016 Senate Result: Heck (R) 45%, Cortez Masto (D) 47%

2012 Presidential Result: Romney (R) 46%, Obama (D) 52%

2012 Senate Result: Heller (R) 46%, Berkley (D) 45%

Initial Rating: Leans Democratic Pickup

Photo by Andrew Davey

Let’s kick this off with the U.S. Senate race (NV-Sen) that everyone is talking about. Last week, health care advocacy group Protect My Care released a PPP poll showing Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) opening a 44%-39% lead over incumbent Senator Dean Heller (R). Not only does this poll show Heller in weaker shape than he was in last year, but the results are even more interesting considering this poll was conducted during the weekend when President Donald Trump endorsed Heller, and convinced perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian (R) to drop out of the Senate race and run for the 3rd Congressional District (NV-03) instead.

Though Heller himself has not been much of a leader in “the world’s greatest deliberative body”, his seat is in the national spotlight and will probably continue to take center stage as the campaign cycle develops. Why’s that? Because Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) flipped a seat that Republicans never imagined they’d lose before Roy Moore became their nominee in last December’s special election there, Nevada may decide the Senate majority should Democrats successfully defend all their seats in play plus pick up open seats in Tennessee and/or Arizona.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Even should Republicans hang onto a numerical majority in Congress’ “upper house”, a Jacky Rosen victory here will probably guarantee that the Senate remains too closely divided for Republicans to pass the most controversial Trump administration agenda items, such as repealing Obamacare or building a massive border wall. And because Heller has been doing himself no favors with his overnight conversion from “No Labels moderate” to “Born Again Deplorable”, I’m inclined to give Rosen the initial upper hand. While this race may continue to be a close one, the combination of the national environment and Heller’s self-inflicted political wounds won’t be an easy one for him to overcome.

Might that wave crash down on the House?

While the intrigue and excitement are quite high in the Senate race, let’s not ignore what’s happening in the House over here. Democrats are already in a good spot here in Nevada, thanks to their strong down-ballot performance in 2016. So long as they hold onto their two marginal seats, NV-03 and NV-04, they can focus more on their offensive targets in other states. 

The Congressional Districts are listed below in order of their likelihood of switching parties.

NV-03: Las Vegas Suburbs, Summerlin South to Henderson

2016 Presidential Result: Trump (R) 48%, Clinton (D) 47%

2016 House Result: Tarkanian (R) 46%, Rosen (D) 47%

2014 House Result: Heck (R) 61%, Bilbray (D) 36%

2012 Presidential Result: Romney (R) 48%, Obama (D) 49%

Initial Rating: Leans Democratic Hold

Photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

Remember what I said about Danny Tarkanian above? That’s why we must talk about him some more down here. This is actually familiar territory for him, as he ran against none other than Jacky Rosen for this very seat just two years ago… And he lost.

And yet, he’s back, back, back again. But really, will this time be different? It’s possible, but I doubt it. Democrats have landed a solid recruit with local philanthropist and public education advocate Susie Lee. While Republicans will probably try to make her ground less solid by attacking her wealth, those likely attacks may ring hollow once Democrats remind voters of Tarkanian’s Trump-like financial scandals and his Trump-like penchant for xenophobic “gaffes”.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Though Lee and Tarkanian must first win their respective primaries, they’re currently heavy favorites to advance to the general election. Lee’s Democratic opponents have yet to prove they’re more than “some dudes”, and Trump’s seal of approval will probably help Tarkanian break through an already crowded field on the Republican side.

NV-04: “Town and Country”, Yerington and Ely to Las Vegas

2016 Presidential Result: Trump (R) 45%, Clinton (D) 50%

2016 House Result: Hardy (R) 45%, Kihuen (D) 49%

2014 House Result: Hardy (R) 49%, Horsford (D) 46%

2012 Presidential Result: Romney (R) 44%, Obama (D) 54%

Initial Rating: Leans Democratic Hold

Let’s do the time warp again? It may be 2018, but the 4th Congressional District may end up hosting a redo of 2014. Why’s that? Thanks to incumbent Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas) and his repulsive sexual harassment scandal, Nevada’s newest Congressional District will continue its habit of changing hands every two years (as it’s done since 2012). But this time around, two former incumbents are looking to win their seat back.

Photo courtesy of United States Congress

In the red corner, we have former Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Bunkerville), “The Accidental Congressman” who stunned the nation with his defeat of then Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Las Vegas) in what was thought to be a solidly Democratic district in 2014, then was defeated himself by Kihuen in 2016. And in the blue corner, we have Steven Horsford, the once rising Democratic star whose rise was cut short by Hardy’s upset victory over him in the “Great Red Tide of 2014”.

Photo courtesy of United States Congress

Though Nevada Republicans initially rallied around Las Vegas City Council Member Stavros Anthony, he dropped out once Hardy hinted that he wants his old job back. Horsford, on the other hand, has to fend off multiple Democratic primary opponents, including State Senator Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas), Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Allison Stephens, and health care activist Amy Vilela. While Spearman has a very non-zero chance of shaking things up here (especially considering the circumstances behind this seat opening up), Horsford is the initial favorite in both the primary and general elections… But keep a close eye here, as this district has already proven that it’s full of surprises.

NV-02: Northern Nevada, Reno to Elko

2016 Presidential Result: Trump (R) 52%, Clinton (D) 40%

2016 House Result: Amodei (R) 58%, Evans (D) 37%

2014 House Result: Amodei (R) 66%, Spees (D) 28%

2012 Presidential Result: Romney (R) 53%, Obama (D) 45%

Initial Rating: Safe Republican Hold

Photo by Andrew Davey

Every now and then, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) should count his blessings. He’s never wowed anyone with his fundraising, but he has raised eyebrows with his way with words. Just days after his office reported a Reno teenager to the Washoe County School District for using some choice words during a phone call, Amodei himself dropped “the f-bomb” and used additional “colorful language” while talking about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the federal Bureau of Land Management. And in case any constituents didn’t find that colorful enough, Amodei upped the ante by spreading an unsubstantiated rumor that Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) may soon resign as Speaker of the House.

Perhaps under different circumstances, Amodei might suddenly find himself more politically vulnerable. But as long as Nevada and national Democrats continue to mostly ignore this seat, Amodei will probably get a free pass into the 116th Congress.

NV-01: Vegas, baby! The Strip, Downtown, and most of the rest of Las Vegas’ urban core

2016 Presidential Result: Trump (R) 33%, Clinton (D) 62%

2016 House Result: Perry (R) 29%, Titus (D) 62%

2014 House Result: Teijero (R) 38%, Titus (D) 57%

2012 Presidential Result: Romney (R) 32%, Obama (D) 66%

Initial Rating: Safe Democratic Hold

Photo by Andrew Davey

Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) has a very storied political HERstory here in Nevada, one that’s led to her increasingly prominent place in Congress. Though she initially represented the swingy NV-03 nine years ago, Titus now holds by far the bluest seat in the state. If Republicans couldn’t even come close to unseating her in 2014, it’s incredibly unlikely they’ll have any chance of doing so in 2018.

Photo by Andrew Davey

And on that note, this concludes our inaugural election forecast. Stay tuned, as I’ll take us through all the hot state races (from Governor to Legislature) next week. Until then, enjoy surfing that wave!

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