Last week, we examined how a “Big Blue Wave” might lead to a near-wipeout for Nevada Republicans in Washington, D.C. Today, we’re checking in on Carson City to see how such a big wave would crash down on our state government. Will President Donald Trump’s unpopularity have us seeing blue up and down Carson Street, or do Democrats need to get their heads out of the clouds?
Overview: End of an era, but will this truly be a new beginning?
Since 2011, Governor Brian Sandoval (R) has been showing Nevada a very different side of the Republican Party. It’s a Republican Party that’s simultaneously forward thinking, and one that feels like a relic from a bygone era. It’s a party that stresses moderation, yet it’s also a party that embraces ambitious policies, along with the tax revenue needed to pay for them.
But to hear Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) describe it, Brian Sandoval’s wing of the Nevada Republican Party is merely a satellite branch of the California Democratic Party. Laxalt’s assertion may be as far from the truth as Carson City is from Washington, D.C., yet it’s nonetheless quite revealing… But not of Sandoval, per se, but rather Laxalt and the Republican Party of 2018.
Now that President Donald Trump has taken the reins of the GOP, and now that Laxalt is taking his queues from Trump over Sandoval, this election will likely serve as a major test. Will Nevada become the new proving ground for Trumpism as a governing philosophy, or will the Sandoval-style center hold?
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
NV-Gov: Will Mountain Street sing the blues?
2016 Presidential Result: Trump (R) 46%, Clinton (D) 48%
2014 Gubernatorial Result: Sandoval (R) 71%, Goodman (D) 24%
2012 Presidential Result: Romney (R) 46%, Obama (D) 52%
2010 Gubernatorial Result: Sandoval (R) 53%, Reid (D) 42%
Initial Rating: Tossup/Tilts Democratic Pickup
This may very well be the biggest of the big enchiladas here. After 20 years of being locked out of the Governor’s Mansion, and just four years after they lost it all in “The Great Red Tide of 2014”, Democrats are hungry to turn the tide and embark on a new era of running the show in Carson City.
But first, they have their own primary to settle. Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak (D) seems to have the upper hand, what with the blessing of former U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D) and his own inimitable war chest. And yet, it’s still unclear whether he can defeat his fellow Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (D), a fearless workhorse of a campaigner who’s a darling of Southern Nevada progressives.
Whoever emerges as the Democratic Nominee will then have to contend with Adam Laxalt and his well-heeled army of Republican insiders… Unless State Treasurer Dan Schwartz (R) finds a way to sneak through that primary (doubtful, but it may be possible). Whatever the case, there’s just so much up in the air here that it’s hard for me to justify anything but a Tossup, with a very slight edge to the Democrats for the time being.
And then, there’s “The Bundy Factor”
Oh, and one more thing: Ryan Bundy is running for Governor as an independent (as in running as no party preference). While there is virtually no chance that Bundy himself will win this election, there’s a very strong chance of him tipping the scales against Republicans. Even though Laxalt is anything but “moderate” by nearly everyone else’s standard, Bundy has accused them of not doing enough to challenge the federal government’s authority over the nation’s public lands.
Even if his (in)famous last name and prominent role in the 2014 armed standoff in Bunkerville aren’t enough to get Bundy more than the low-to-mid single-digit percentage level that third party candidates usually muster, that might still be enough to cause some trouble for Laxalt.
Notes on the other statewide contests
Not only may the far right cause headaches for Laxalt, but they’re also poised to cause trouble for his likely running mate, State Senator Michael Roberson (R-Henderson). Why’s that? For one, the Independent American Party (IAP) will probably feature perennial far-right fixture Janine Hansen as its Lt. Governor nominee. And two, despite Roberson’s recent overtures to the party’s Trumpist base, he can’t escape his own “Moderate Mike” past that’s adding fuel to the Bundy-Hansen fire. This is one of the reasons why I also have the Lt. Governor contest in Tossup territory, with the slightest of edges to former State Treasurer Kate Marshall (D), who’s running on the Democratic side.
Initial Ratings for the Other Constitutional Offices
Lt. Governor: Tossup/Tilts Democratic Pickup
Attorney General: Tossup/Tilts Democratic Pickup
Secretary of State: Leans Republican Hold
Treasurer: Tossup/Tilts Democratic Pickup
Controller: Leans Republican Hold
As for the other state constitutional offices, Republicans are in better shape to hold the Secretary of State’s office, where incumbent Barbara Cegavske (R) has somehow managed to remain less controversial than Laxalt and Schwartz. The same can not be said for State Controller Ron Knecht (R), though I’m also giving him the initial upper hand as we see how challenger Catherine Byrne (D) introduces herself to voters.
Deputy Attorney General Wes Duncan (R) is trying to keep the AG office in Republican hands, but State Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford (D-Spring Valley) isn’t making that easy for him. The Treasurer’s office is another open seat up for grabs, with former State Senator and Las Vegas City Council Member Bob Beers (R) attempting another political comeback while Democrats coalesce behind Zach Conine (D). Expect very heated contests in both races.
Who has a leg up on #NVLeg? Let’s start with the Senate
79th Session (2017): 9 Republicans, 11 Democrats, and 1 Nonpartisan (who caucused with Democrats)
78th Session (2015): 11 Republicans, 10 Democrats
77th Session (2013): 10 Republicans, 11 Democrats
Initial Rating: Likely Democratic Hold
Seat Projection: 11-13 Democrats
For the most part, the Senate has been remarkably stable in the past decade. Since 2007, Democrats have held no fewer than ten seats and Republicans have held no fewer than nine seats. There’s a good chance that this pattern will continue into next legislative session.
Simply put, Democrats’ offensive targets are limited… And for that matter, so are Republicans’. So long as the courts continue to reject the GOP’s attempt to recall two Democratic Senators, their only realistic chance of retaking the Senate lies in winning the Summerlin based SD 8, where Hillary Clinton narrowly edged out Donald Trump in 2016, and where Senator Patricia Farley (NP-Summerlin South) is retiring after one term. On top of that, Republicans must also figure out a way to flip the Sunrise Manor based SD 21, a solidly Democratic seat where Assembly Member James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) would have to screw up royally to give any Republican any opportunity here.
Republicans also have to play defense in the Southwest Las Vegas Valley based SD 9, where Becky Harris (R-Enterprise) just left to take over the Gaming Control Board in a seat that Hillary Clinton carried by over 8% in 2016. They also have to hold onto the Henderson based SD 20, the very seat that Roberson himself is vacating to run for Lt. Governor. Trump carried SD 20 by just under 2% in 2016, but Republicans have historically fared better down-ballot, which should help Assembly Member Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) hold this seat for Team Red. The Democratic-trending SD 9, however, will be much harder for Republicans to keep, and that right there may very well guarantee a Democratic Senate majority in 2019.
But that Assembly, though
79th Session (2017): 15 Republicans, 27 Democrats
78th Session (2015): 25 Republicans, 17 Democrats
77th Session (2013): 15 Republicans, 27 Democrats
Initial Rating: Safe Democratic Hold
Seat Projection: 27-29 Democrats
Unlike the Senate, the Assembly has seen some wild gyrations this decade. In less than eight years, we’ve seen it go from a solid Democratic majority to a solid Republican majority, and all the way back to a robust Democratic majority. But this time around, I’m not expecting much change.
Though Republicans are insisting they have a shot at whittling down the current robust Democratic majority, it’s far more likely we’ll see Democrats adding to their majority. So far, I’m only sensing two Democratic-held seats in serious jeopardy: Skip Daly’s (D-Sparks) in the northeast Truckee Meadows based AD 31, and Lesley Cohen’s (D-Henderson) in the always swingy Green Valley based AD 29. Former Assembly Members Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) and Stephen Silberkraus (R-Henderson) are aiming for comebacks in their respective districts. Perhaps Dickman can pull it off in AD 31, but I’m less convinced Silberkraus can in AD 29 in this kind of environment.
If anything, Republicans have reason to fear losing some of their seats. In particular AD 4 in the Northwest Las Vegas Valley, and AD’s 2 and 37 in Summerlin, are worth watching. Trump won these seats, but not by much, and the Republican incumbents here (including former Assembly Speaker John Hambrick [R-Summerlin South] in AD 2) won similarly underwhelming victories. And if the “Big Blue Wave” starts to look like a tsunami, keep an eye on AD 22 in Henderson and AD 26 in Reno, two more districts where Trump underperformed in 2016.
Final thoughts on our initial forecast
As you can see, Democrats have plenty of opportunities to paint the Silver State a deeper shade of blue. However, there’s a whole lot that’s still to be determined. Not only must we wait to see who emerges victorious in the gubernatorial primary, but several other Democrats running down-ballot (as well as, frankly, the party itself) still have a lot to prove.
Still, Republicans have more reasons to fear the coming wave. Not only is U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) likely to cause problems at the top of the ticket, but recent election trends suggest that the “Suburban Revolt” might especially hit Republicans hard in those Las Vegas and Reno area neighborhoods that have historically been crucial to their success across the board. Stay tuned, and make sure to keep those surfboards nearby.