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2018 Election Forecast: Primary Colors, One Month Out

With less than a month until Primary Day, I want us to take a fresh look at the political scene here in Nevada. Though the general outlook seems consistent, we are starting to notice more of the contours of this cycle and how it’s developing. Let’s jump right into the current state of affairs as we get a better sense of what happens next.

NV-Sen

Initial Rating: Leans Democratic Pickup

Now: Unchanged

Right now, it’s a story of change amidst more of the same. What hasn’t changed? For the most part, the polling has remained constant. Despite some occasional fluctuations, U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) continues to struggle against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson).

What has changed? Since our last report, Nevada and national Democrats have been stepping up to organize more on the ground. As a result, Democrats have rebounded to a 4% statewide voter registration lead. So long as this trend continues, Heller will continue to struggle to find the right balance between rallying the Trump base he panders endlessly to and winning over the more moderate swing voters he will likely need to win reelection.

Unless and until Heller proves he can pull that off, I still consider Rosen a slight favorite in the general election. This election may be decided by a handful of points (or maybe even a handful of votes), as is Nevada tradition, so stay tuned and prepare for a very bumpy ride ahead.

NV-03

Initial Rating: Leans Democratic Hold

Now: Unchanged

If the best case for victory national Republicans can come up with is “Tark will force Democrats to spend lots of money here!”, color me doubtful that 2018 is the year Republicans will paint the 3rd Congressional District red again. Though it’s certainly still possible, as Donald Trump narrowly edged Hillary Clinton here, it’s still not looking all that probable.

Democrats landed a solid recruit in Susie Lee, who’s been fundraising at an eye-popping pace and consolidating internal party support. Meanwhile, Republicans remain restless over Trump’s decision to intervene in their primary (by convincing Danny Tarkanian to run here) to spare Heller a messy primary in his race. Even as Tarkanian faces multiple primary opponents (who, again, had already decided to run in NV-03 before the White House had Tarkanian pull his switcheroo), I’m still expecting a Lee vs. Tarkanian general election… And I still sense Lee has the upper hand here.

NV-04

Initial Rating: Leans Democratic Hold

Now: Unchanged (for now)

I’ve been tempted to change my general election rating here, but I’m holding off for now. Former Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) now looks to be in a much stronger position to win his primary, especially since the Culinary Union has gifted him with an official endorsement. At this point, Horsford is in a much better position to win his primary, even though an upset by State Senator Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) or health care activist Amy Vilela is still possible.

But for the time being, I’m keeping the general election rating where it is. Though it’s hard for me to imagine how former Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Bunkerville) repeats his 2014 upset victory over Horsford in this kind of national environment, I need more evidence before I can feel comfortable moving this seat further in the Democrats’ direction. Republicans are still spending here, which suggests that they haven’t completely given up on Hardy just yet.

Oh, and before we go, I do need to say this about outgoing Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s (D-Las Vegas) threat to run for Las Vegas City Council soon: Seriously? I get that anything can theoretically happen in a super low turnout off-off year election, but it’s nonetheless hard for me to imagine even that tiny pool of voters will overlook Kihuen’s disturbing history of sexual harassment just to give him some sort of “consolation prize” for losing his seat in Congress. Perhaps he finally needs to look for something in the private sector, and while he’s at it, stop harassing women.

NV-Gov

Initial Rating: Tossup/Tilts Democratic Pickup

Now: Leans Democratic Pickup

Though the federal landscape largely remains the same, I am changing things up at the state level. Let’s begin with the Gubernatorial race, where we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what the future holds in store for Carson City. Though the Democratic primary is getting increasingly rough, with Clark County Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani accusing each other of everything from “closet conservatism” to corruption, it won’t be easy for Giunchigliani to catch up with Sisolak with less than two weeks until early voting begins. I’m increasingly convinced Sisolak and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) will win their respective primaries, though the Democratic landscape may yet be volatile enough for Giunchigliani to pull off an upset.

The only NV-Gov poll that’s been publicly released, Mark Mellman’s survey for The Nevada Independent, gave Sisolak a 6% lead over Laxalt in the general election. The private consensus seems to agree, so I’m upgrading Democrats’ odds here. Perhaps this will change if Giunchigliani wins the Democratic primary and business groups rally around Laxalt, or if her attacks on Sisolak stick in the general, or if the national environment improves enough for Laxalt’s ties to Trump to become an advantage instead of a millstone, but right now Laxalt’s dreams of climbing the political ladder are starting to feel less prophetic and more like fantasy.

The Other Statewides and NV-Leg

Initial Assembly Rating: Safe Democratic Hold

Now: Unchanged

Seat Projection: 27-29 Democrats (unchanged from April)

Initial Senate Rating: Likely Democratic Hold

Now: Safe Democratic Hold

Seat Projection: 11-13 Democrats (unchanged from April)

Now that the Republican Recalls are essentially on “judicial death row”, that’s probably the final death knell to Republican hopes of flipping at least one house of the Nevada Legislature. They were already severe underdogs in the Assembly, where only two Democratic held seats appear to be in jeopardy, as opposed to six Republican held seats. But now that the courts appear unlikely to approve special elections in the two Democratic held Senate seats where Republicans sought recalls, they only have one realistic pickup opportunity in the Summerlin based SD 8, while Democrats are currently targeting two Republican held seats to flip in the Southwest Las Vegas Valley based SD 9 and the Henderson based SD 20.

In even worse news for Republicans, Democratic voter registration gains are happening in these areas. As I mentioned earlier, the more the Democrats’ pool of potential voters grows, the more that margin of error shrinks for Republicans in these marginal seats.

On that note, I am changing my rating for one of the other statewide contests: Lieutenant Governor, from Tossup/Tilts Democratic to Leans Democratic. The way this election seems to be going, Kate Marshall’s (D) and Michael Roberson’s (R) political fate is probably tied to that of their running mates. Barring a change in the national climate, any primary surprise(s), and/or any unforeseen scandal(s), Marshall now has a clearer advantage in the general.

Closing thoughts

Up until now, we’ve generally had to work on polls, models, and national news. That finally begins to change in the coming weeks, as Nevadans begin to cast their own ballots. Keep an eye on primary turnout, as that will at least give us more of a real barometer for base enthusiasm going into the summer and fall.

And finally, we have nothing but best wishes for speedy recovery for former U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D) and current First Lady Melania Trump. Trump underwent kidney surgery earlier today, and Reid just had surgery to remove a pancreas tumor. Regardless of how any of us feel about the current state of American politics, there’s no reason to make light of matters of life and death.

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