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The End Is Here: A Conversation with Influencers Near and Far on This Historic Midterm Election

It’s almost over, Nevada. The 2018 election cycle pretty much began while votes were still being counted in November 2016. In the wake of President Donald Trump’s upset victory, progressives took some comfort in Nevada bucking the trend and staying in the blue column.

Since then we’ve experienced multiple attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), another round of horrifying mass shootings (including one that attacked us right here at home), attacks on diverse communities, and an ongoing national constitutional crisis. And yet, the folks who spoke with us last Friday voiced hope that Nevada will once again defy conventional wisdom… And that this time, the rest of the nation will come along for the ride.

Where things stand now
Photo by Andrew Davey

Since our final early voting report on Saturday, a few more rural votes have trickled in. As a result, Democrats’ statewide turnout advantage has gone to 3.43%, or a mere 0.13% drop. That still translates to a hefty 21,559 ballot advantage for Nevada Democrats. And as both Jon Ralston and I explained over the weekend, the Democrats’ early vote (as in, in-person and vote-by-mail combined) lead is so large that Dean Heller (R) and Adam Laxalt (R) need a huge lead among Nonpartisans and/or severely disproportionately Republican turnout tomorrow in order to overcome Jacky Rosen’s (D) and Steve Sisolak’s (D) “Clark County Democratic firewall”.

This final surge of momentum for Democrats comes amidst a national environment that’s generally shifting in their direction. Even as the national polls are all over the place in these final hours, Republicans are privately fretting over internal data that’s pointing toward Democrats topping their historic 2006 performance that lifted them to a comfortable House majority in another year that featured an unpopular Republican President and a flurry of corruption scandals.

Against this backdrop, I spoke last Friday with a candidate, a nationally renowned gun violence prevention movement leader, and a group of local civil rights activists about what’s happening on the ground in these final moments before this momentous midterm.

“We need a government that works for the middle class, and an economy that works for working families. […] The only way we can make this happen is by getting out and voting.”
– Susie Lee (D), NV-03 Congressional candidate
Photo by Andrew Davey

After what appeared to be national Republicans abandoning the 3rd Congressional District (NV-03) amidst an underwhelming perennial candidate failing to break his curse of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, President Donald Trump and his allies have rode in to Danny Tarkanian’s (R) rescue. And when Democrats initially struggled to maintain a lead over Republicans in NV-03 early voting, pundits began to wonder whether the other Republican groups who abandoned Tarkanian were too quick to write him off.

Regarding Trump’s decision to swoop into NV-03 to repay the favor to Tarkanian (after he dropped out of NV-Sen to allow Dean Heller [R] an easy primary win), his opponent Susie Lee (D) said, “I have more than 15,000 grassroots supporters. Danny has relied on dark money to come from the outside. Guess what: Nevadans aren’t buying it now, and they didn’t buy it the six times he ran before.”

Lee then contrasted Tarkanian’s controversial record of setting up telemarketing companies that were later found to commit fraud against senior citizens and what she described as a “$16 million bailout” that resulted from a failed California real estate project against her record of public education advocacy, then pivoted to the very familiar 2018-era Democratic theme of economic justice and protecting the social safety net. According to Lee, “They’ve seen my track record in the community, and know that I’ve delivered results. I want to continue to do that in Washington.”

Lee continued, “We need a government that works for the middle class, and an economy that works for working families. We need to make sure we’re protecting our health care, and our Social Security and Medicare.” She then added, “The only way we can make this happen is by getting out and voting.”

“I keep telling my children, especially my 18-year-old who’s come of age under a Trump presidency, that this is not normal, this is dangerous, and the way to course-correct is to show up at the polls.”
– Shannon Watts, Moms Demand Action
Photo by Andrew Davey

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, Shannon Watts founded Moms Demand Action to build a network of citizen activists across the country demanding gun violence prevention. A few months later, they merged with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns to form Everytown for Gun Safety. Since the very beginning Everytown and Moms Demand Action have been organizing in Nevada, and that activist network has only grown further since the 1 October Las Vegas Shooting.

So why did Watts return to Nevada last weekend? For her, it’s a matter of tending to unfinished business: “We fought a hard battle in 2016 to win the background check initiative, which we did, but there are too many lawmakers in Nevada who are beholden to the gun lobby. This law is not being enforced. We want to elect candidates who will enforce the laws that Nevada voters have asked for.”

Watts sounded upbeat about that background checks law being enforced should Steve Sisolak (D) win on Tuesday. And if Jacky Rosen (D), Susie Lee, and Steven Horsford (D) win their respective races, Watts sees a potential opening for movement on the federal level: “If we flip the House, we can actually pass this kind of legislation, and perhaps the Senate will see that [gun safety] legislation is what the American people want.”

Watts also voiced confidence that Rosen, Sisolak, Lee, and Horsford will win tomorrow, then noted how the uptick in turnout among voters who normally don’t participate in midterm elections has changed the game: “I’m hopeful that you can attribute that to the power of first-time voters. I’m hopeful that first-time voters have been underestimated and undercounted.” Watts then mentioned that her son happens to be one of those first-time voters: “I keep telling my children, especially my 18-year-old who’s come of age under a Trump presidency, that this is not normal, this is dangerous, and the way to course-correct is to show up at the polls.”

“[E]very straight ally and every gay ally must speak out for them whenever they can.”
– Billy Cline, BattleBorn Equality
Photo by Andrew Davey

In the past decade, Nevada’s LGBTQ+ residents have fought for their rights and made great strides in winning them. This year a new organization, BattleBorn Equality, has emerged as a statewide group dedicated to protecting that progress and further advancing LGBTQ+ civil rights in Nevada and nationally. But with the Trump administration deadset on fighting against transgender Americans and continually attacking civil rights in the name of “religious freedom”, how can Nevadans fight back?

For the BattleBorn Equality team, it starts with our votes. Locally based super-volunteer Lynette Hull struck an optimistic note as she described the last three days of early voting: “As soon as the early voting site opened at UNLV, a lot of young people voted. Between Halloween and [Friday], those numbers have been extremely high.” She and the rest of them then noted how Millennial and Gen-Z voters have been strongly opposed to Trump’s policies (including his actions targeting LGBTQ+ Americans), and that this year’s uptick in young voter turnout (in early voting thus far) suggests they’re registering their disapproval at the ballot box.

For BattleBorn Equality State Director Billy Cline, this fight is very personal: “I know trans* people in my own circle of friends. Once [Trump’s order to redefine gender] came from the president, they were devastated. They’ve voiced to me that their voice was taken away completely.” Cline then addressed how he and others are striking back against Trump’s transphobic agenda: “This means that every straight ally and every gay ally must speak out for them whenever they can.”

Cline then chided Heller’s refusal to condemn the White House’s recent actions, then contrasted his record with that of Nevada’s other Senator and the Congresswoman who’s running against him: “We need someone who will speak for them. That’s someone like Jacky Rosen. That’s someone like Catherine Cortez Masto, who’s already been speaking out for [LGBTQ+ Nevadans].”

The closing argument, and the final judgment
Photo by Andrew Davey

As we’ve been examining all year, Heller, Laxalt, and most other leading Republican candidates here in Nevada have largely marched in lockstep with Trump on all the major issues, from health care to immigration and from civil rights to gun violence. Heller’s and Laxalt’s campaigns have bet big on this election being decided by the select few voters who still strongly support Trump, yet early voting turnout suggests they’re in for a rude awakening with a larger and more diverse electorate than they were preparing for.

For BattleBorn Equality’s Billy Cline, this suggests Nevadans are tiring of Trump’s “culture war”… And of Heller’s tacit approval of it: “I think Nevadans want someone who will work with all parties, [work for] all citizens, and govern for everyone and not just one party. I’m confident Jacky Rosen will win, and that she’ll bring all the other Democrats across [the finish line] with her.”

In just over 24 hours, we’ll finally get some hard answers. And perhaps in just over 24 hours, these and other activists will reap the rewards of all their work in the field.

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