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Trail Mix: A Pre-primary 2020 Election Forecast Update

On one hand, a whole lot has happened since our last election forecast. On the other, so much of our world has stood still. As thousands of ballots (including mine) have already been turned in, I figure now is as good of a time as ever to assess what’s happening in the election, from the presidential race that’s always front and center to the Nevada Legislature seats that are flying under the radar.


First, an update on the presidential race
Photo by Andrew Davey

A month ago, ALG Research (a respected Democratic polling company) conducted a poll for a Democratic group that the group subsequently leaked to The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston. Despite the poll showing a 64% approval rating for Governor Steve Sisolak (D), it nonetheless also showed President Donald Trump only lagging behind former Vice President Joe Biden by 4% (49% Biden, 45% Trump). Those presidential numbers got some pundits hyping up the potential of Trump turning Nevada red this fall, but is there any truth to this hype?

I still doubt it. For one, this is just one poll. While it’s lamentable that we have so little polling data to work with, the little that we do have (such as Civiqs’ and Morning Consult’s respective tracking of Trump’s approval ratings) suggests that ALG’s mere 7% (46%-53%) Trump approval deficit may be Trump’s best-case scenario here. 

Photo by Andrew Davey

Then, there’s the limited crosstab data that Ralston was able to share. ALG modeled an 2020 electorate who would not only be whiter than 2016, but as white if not whiter than 2018 (a midterm year). Then there’s the ALG poll suggesting a mere 23% (57%-34%) Biden lead among Latinx voters, which again, conflicts with other polling data suggesting Trump is doing far worse among Latinx voters. Of course, considering smaller subsamples tend to have higher margins of error than the larger overall polling sample, it’s possible that ALG’s potentially overly Trump-friendly Latinx subsample was canceled out by an overly hostile white subsample. 

Is it possible that Trump is within striking range here in Nevada (again)? Sure. Is it probable? I still doubt it, especially considering Biden’s numbers nationally and in neighboring western states with similar demographic profiles to ours. (I’m looking at you, Arizona!) So for now, I’m keeping Nevada’s presidential race as Likely Democratic. Of course, this is subject to change, but I’ll need more data to convince me the state of play has changed so dramatically in Trump’s favor when most other indicators suggest it hasn’t.

Has Steven Horsford found a way to lose what has been his “race to lose”?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Earlier this month, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) made headlines. But instead of those headlines focusing on any COVID-19 relief efforts, they were about his extramarital relationship with a U.S. Senate intern turned star podcaster. For a minute, what felt like a sleepy race suddenly transformed into an earth-shattering election full of scandal.

Yet within a week, the Horsford affair disappeared from the headlines and he again began making news with his professional duties instead of his personal life. (Don’t worry, we’ll talk more about the substance of the Horsford story later.) Unless new details emerge, details that could throw Horsford into legal and political peril, I’m keeping NV-04 as Likely Democratic. And as for the NV-04 Republican primary, I say it’s leaning towards former Assembly Member Jim Marchant (R), though I won’t be too surprised if Lisa Song Sutton (R) pulls an upset. 

Photo by Andrew Davey

Meanwhile in what was supposed to be the big marquee race in NV-03, hardly anything has changed. Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) not only continues to make news for her work to deliver more relief resources for Nevada, but her Republican opponents continue to make news for their increasingly bruising attacks on each other. So for now, I’m keeping NV-03 as Likely Democratic

For the NV-03 Republican primary, I’m increasingly seeing former WWE star Dan Rodimer (R) as the likely winner. Former State Treasurer Dan Schwartz (R) has been trying to make hay of Rodimer’s incredibly checkered legal rap sheet. But considering Trump’s own incredibly checkered legal rap sheet, and considering how key Trump allies like former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R), U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California), and the Adelsons have coalesced behind Rodimer, I suspect we now know how this “Battle of the Dans” ends. And as I hinted at above, it increasingly looks like Susie Lee’s in a strong position to emerge as the ultimate winner.

How ‘bout that Nevada Legislature?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Since our last election forecast, we’ve seen some changes in the race to get into that esteemed club known as the Nevada Legislature. For one, Democrats ultimately didn’t present any candidates in Assembly Districts (AD’s) 22 and 25, thereby guaranteeing the reelection of Assembly Members Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson) and Jill Tolles (R-Reno). For this obvious reason, AD’s 22 and 25 are now Safe Republican.

Otherwise, I’m keeping all the other general election races where they are and awaiting the primary results (and other new data) to determine if anything else needs to be moved. And speaking of the primary, there are a handful of interesting primaries worth watching. 

On the Republican side, the perpetually politically precarious Assembly Member Chris Edwards (R-Las Vegas) is being challenged by Mesquite City Council Member Annie Black. So far Edwards has managed to survive past intra-party challenges, including a botched recall attempt in 2015, so perhaps this time will be different. But considering this is a very different election happening under very different circumstances, including Black’s increasingly prominent role in local pro-Trump/anti-social distancing protests, I’m marking the AD 19 GOP primary as Likely Edwards to acknowledge the slight possibility of a Black upset.

Nevada Legislature, continued: What’s the deal with SD 7?

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move back into the Las Vegas Valley, shift over to the Democratic Party, and look at perhaps the most consequential legislative primary of 2020: Senate District (SD) 7, which spans from UNLV-adjacent neighborhoods south and east to the northernmost neighborhoods of Henderson, including Green Valley North and Whitney Ranch. Since this is a district that Hillary Clinton won by a hefty 57%-36% margin in 2016, and one where U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D) and Governor Steve Sisolak (D) won by even larger margins in 2018, the Democratic primary is almost certainly where SD 7 will be decided.

While Democratic primaries elsewhere are very ideologically charged proving grounds, the SD 7 primary is instead being contested by two candidates, Assembly Member Ellen Spiegel (D-Henderson) and former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange, with very similar somewhat-left-of-center ideological profiles and policy positions, and a third candidate (Assembly Member Richard Carrillo [D-Las Vegas]) who’s mostly now seen as a “spoiler”. So if there’s no real “progressive vs. moderate” divide here, why is SD 7 the hottest primary of 2020? 

Long story short: It’s a very complicated power play. Spiegel rode into the Assembly (in what was then AD 21) with very little Democratic establishment backing in 2008, then largely campaigned apart from the rest of the Democratic ticket before losing in 2010, then chartered her own path ever since returning to the Legislature in the then newly created AD 20 in 2012. Lange, however, has worked her way up to the higher ranks of Nevada Democratic circles, from her work on then U.S. Senator Harry Reid’s (D) extremely close yet ultimately successful 1998 reelection campaign to her tenure (2011-17) chairing the Nevada State Democratic Party.

Nevada Legislature: Just a little more SD 7, I promise!

Even though there’s no clear ideological divide along the lines of this year’s Presidential Caucus, we’re nonetheless seeing an “insider vs. outsider” dynamic develop in SD 7. Even though Spiegel has already served in the Legislature, the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus has endorsed Lange, probably because Caucus leaders view Lange as a more reliable “team player”. Even though Harry Reid and the Culinary Union have endorsed Lange, SEIU 1107, AFSCME 4041, and DFA Nevada have endorsed Spiegel, and that strongly suggests that they just weren’t convinced by the Lange campaign’s recent barrage of “infamous” attacks on Spiegel.

What makes me scratch my head over these attack mailers is that the Lange campaign’s accusations are easily debunkable. One 2009 bill (AB 204) addressing the collection of HOA fees and fines turned into a false claim of Spiegel “support[ing] foreclosures of Las Vegas homes”. A 2013 bill (AB 227) that established a public lands task force was initially co-sponsored by Spiegel, but she voted against it after environmental groups coalesced against the bill. And a 2017 bill (SB 555) expanded the opportunity scholarship program to cover private school tuition for select Nevada students, but that was part of the bipartisan budget deal that ended Republican legislators’ last-minute attempt to force a revival of the larger and broader ESA school voucher program that the Nevada Supreme Court effectively blocked in 2016. In a wildly ironic twist, the Democratic Senators who now back Lange voted for one, two, or all three of the bills cited in Lange’s attack ads, even as these attack ads insinuate that Spiegel is “not a good Democrat”.

So there you have it: This is no “political revolution” or fight for “big, structural change”, but rather a primary involving two mainstream Nevada Democrats with extensive records (one in the Legislature, and one in the Democratic Party) that voters can view and judge for themselves. With that said, I won’t be surprised if Lange’s attack ads convince just enough Democratic voters to put her over the top. Still, I’m marking the SD 7 primary as a Tossup (between Lange and Spiegel) due to Spiegel’s perpetually solid ground game and gangbusters fundraising possibly lessening the impact of the Democratic establishment largely coalescing behind Lange. 

And finally, one more PSA to “Mail it in, Nevada!”

As Jon Ralston has dutifully been keeping tabs on for quite some time, Adam Laxalt continues to throw televised temper tantrums over Nevada’s mostly vote-by-mail primary that is being overseen by our Republican Secretary of State (Barbara Cegavske). Keep in mind that: 1) President Donald Trump has no actual legal grounds to stop our vote-by-mail election(s?), 2) Trump’s claims of “fraud” are themselves fraudulent, 3) Trump has voted by mail himself (!!!), and 4) Laxalt seems incapable of expressing any original thoughts separate from the Trump campaign’s official talking points.

Contrary to Trump’s and Laxalt’s claims, voting by mail doesn’t have to be “fraudulently” scary. Rather, as the Secretary of State’s new site explains, all you have to do is open the envelope, pull out the ballot, fill the bubbles (one per office), place the ballot in the protective sleeve, place the ballot and sleeve in the envelope, sign and seal the envelope, then drop it in the mailbox or at a secure drop-off site (as we have in Clark County). It’s really that simple, and it’s so great that Donald Trump votes like this himself. If he gets to do it, why shouldn’t you?

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.

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