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2020 ElectionNevada Legislature

Trail Mix: Our Spring 2020 Election Forecast, Nevada Legislature Edition

Yesterday, we went through all of Nevada’s federal races. Today, we hop over to the Nevada Legislature to see how this year’s election may change the balance of power in our state government. And yes, this very much matters, so let’s take a closer look at how your vote can change next year’s state of play in Carson City.

First, an overview of the state of play at the Nevada Legislature
Nevada Legislature
Photo by Andrew Davey

The past six years have provided the ultimate wild ride in Carson City. In 2014, the “Great Red Tide” washed in Republican majorities in the Assembly and the Senate… Only for then Governor Brian Sandoval (R) to use them to mostly raise taxes and better fund public infrastructure in a stark departure from contemporary Republican Party protocol. In 2016, Democrats won back both houses of the Legislature and used their regained power to pass new marijuana taxes to fill budget holes and work with Sandoval to pass a number of policy bills that most national Republicans are increasingly dead-set against (like LGBTQ+ civil rights and renewable energy).

Then came 2018. Republicans mostly got wiped out in the “Big Blue Wave” that carried Governor Steve Sisolak (D) into office alongside expanded Democratic majorities. However because State Senator Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) pulled off the narrowest of wins (24 votes!), Pickard denied Democrats a ⅔ supermajority in the Senate and a vote for a modest payroll tax extension that will eventually be decided by the Nevada Supreme Court.

While Democrats did pass some big policy bills on civil rights, climate action, and gun violence prevention, the ongoing logjam over the state budget and other matters of economic justice means 2020 will ultimately be a matter of whether Nevada Democrats can convince enough voters to give them ⅔+ supermajorities in both chambers of the Nevada Legislature to “finish unfinished business”. For now, I’m placing both the Assembly and Senate in the Safe Democratic (Simple) Majority column, but the Assembly sits at Leans Democratic Supermajority while the Senate is a Tossup for (or against) a Democratic Supermajority. I explain why below.

Senate District (SD) 5: Henderson – Green Valley
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 47.8%, Trump (R) 45.7%
NV-Sen 2018: Estimated Rosen (D) +9-9.5%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 38.8% D, 32.1% R, 23.0% NP
Nevada Legislature
Thirty-two female members of the Nevada Legislature pose for photos before the start of the 80th Legislative Session, in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. The group represents the first female majority Legislature in the country.
Photo by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Momentum

State Senator Joyce Woodhouse (D-Henderson) first flipped this once solidly Republican seat that’s mostly nestled in Henderson’s leafy Green Valley in 2006, then lost it in 2010, then won a new version of SD 5 (mostly dropping its southern chunk to create what’s now Pickard’s SD 20) in 2012 and held it by a very narrow 469 vote (or 0.86%) margin in 2016. Woodhouse then took charge of the incredibly powerful Senate Finance Committee, one of the two “money committees” in the Nevada Legislature that essentially put together the biennial state budget. 

Woodhouse leaves behind some impressive shoes to fill, and she leaves behind one of the state’s marquee swing districts that usually closely mirrors statewide results. Fortunately for Democrats, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D) and Governor Steve Sisolak carried SD 5 by such convincing margins in 2018 to convince me that Kristee Watson (D) is probably in a good place to keep this seat in Democratic hands. For now, I’m placing SD 5 in the Leans Democratic column and waiting to see whether Carrie Buck (R) and other local Republicans have learned any lessons from their failed recall attempt

SD 6: Las Vegas – Summerlin North and Northwest Las Vegas
NV-Pres 2016: 49.6% Clinton (D), 44.8% Trump (R)
NV-Sen 2018: Estimated Rosen (D) +9.5-10.5%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 40.4% D, 32.4% R, 21.6% NP

Like Joyce Woodhouse, Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) won a hard-fought swing district, though she flipped a previously Republican held seat centered in Northwest Las Vegas and Summerlin north of Summerlin Parkway. And like Woodhouse, Republicans tried to recall Cannizzaro, failed to collect enough signatures, and failed to convince state courts to redo the signature count in a more flattering light for Republicans.

Cannizzaro is now the Senate Majority Leader, and she must now secure her own reelection to keep Democrats’ Senate supermajority hopes alive. For now it looks like she will, so I’m placing SD 6 in the Likely Democratic column and waiting to see if April Becker (R) can convince me she can thrive in exactly the kind of suburban area where President Donald Trump has been dragging down the Republican brand. 

SD 15: Northwest and Southwest Reno
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 47.1%, Trump 44.3%
NV-Sen 2018: Estimated Rosen (D) +7-8%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 36.3% D, 35.7% R, 21.3% NP
Photo by Andrew Davey

While Clark County typically gets nearly all the national media attention whenever they notice that Nevada matters in a national election, locals “in the know” know that Washoe County is typically the key bellwether. So far, this dynamic seems to be shaking out again this cycle, as State Senator Heidi Seevers Gansert (R-Reno) is the one Republican who holds a seat carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, thereby holding the one seat that now stands in the way of a Democratic supermajority.

On one hand, Gansert has occasionally sided with Democrats on matters like ERA ratification, the final 2017 budget deal, and several of the 2019 climate bills. On the other, she held the line with Republicans against the 2019 tax extension that’s now pending in state courts. I’m pegging SD 15 as a Tossup for now. Gansert has already shown ability to outperform “Generic Republican” in the Trump era, but Reno’s continuing Democratic trend and local Democrats’ coalescing behind Wendy Jauregui-Jackins (D) suggests SD 15 may (again) be the biggest and most consequential seat in the Nevada Legislature.

SD 18: Northwest Las Vegas
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 41.6%, Trump (R) 51.9%
NV-Sen 2018: Estimated Heller (R) +4.5-5.5%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 34.6% D, 37.6% R, 21.9% NP

If another “Blue Wave” materializes in 2020, keep an eye on SD 18 in Northwest Las Vegas. State Senator Scott Hammond (R-Las Vegas) had a fairly close call against Kelli Ross (D) in 2012, but enjoyed an easier reelection over Alexander Marks (D) in 2016. Yet while former U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) and other top of the ticket Republicans did carry this district in 2018, their margins dropped fairly significantly due to Democrats’ “suburban surge”

As long as Trump carries SD 18 again, Hammond will probably hold on. But if Democrats build on their 2018 gain and advance further, gun safety advocate Liz Becker (D) might pull off the upset. I’m pegging SD 18 as Likely Republican for now, and we’ll keep tabs on whether Becker can put this seat further into play.

Assembly District (AD) 2: Las Vegas Valley – Summerlin South
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 45.9%, Trump (R) 48.5%
NV-Sen 2018: Rosen (D) 48.9%, Heller (R) 48.5%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 34.7% D, 37.0% R, 22.7% NP
Photo by Andrew Davey

Not only is this an open seat, but it may end up being the swingiest of all swing seats in the Assembly. Assembly Member John Hambrick (R-Summerlin South) is stepping down, and so far four Republicans and three Democrats have filed in AD 2

Trump narrowly carried this seat in 2016, but he underperformed the historic Republican average. Both Rosen and Sisolak narrowly carried AD 2 in 2018, and it’s very possible that former Vice President Joe Biden or U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) beats Trump here in 2020. Hambrick defeated Jennie Sherwood (D) by less than 4% in 2018, so I’m pegging AD 2 as a Tossup because it’s now the prime open seat of 2020.

AD 4: Northwest Las Vegas
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 43.9%, Trump (R ) 49.6%
NV-Sen 2018: Rosen (D) 48.6%, Heller (R) 47.6%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 36.2% D, 35.5% R, 22.4% NP

This was perhaps one of the most surprising flips of 2018: former mental health professional and mortgage broker Connie Munk (D-Las Vegas) defeated then Assembly Member Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas) by 120 votes (or 0.4%). Munk is now running for reelection, and McArthur is running again to regain this seat.

AD 4 has historically been favorable turf for Republicans, including one Assembly Member turned Las Vegas City Council Member and perpetual conspiracy peddler Michele Fiore. However Democrats have recently retaken the voter registration lead here, and both Rosen and Sisolak narrowly carried this seat alongside Munk in 2018. For these reasons, I’m placing AD 4 in the Tossup column and planning to keep a very close eye on this seat for the rest of the year.

AD 22: Henderson – Green Valley Ranch, MacDonald Highlands
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 42.6%, Trump (R) 51.4%
NV-Sen 2018: Rosen (D) 46.7%, Heller (R) 50.1%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 33.8% D, 38.2% R, 22.1% NP

Kristee Watson may now be running in SD 5, but she previously lived and ran here in AD 22 south of I-215 in 2018. And while she lost to now Assembly Member Melissa Hardy (R-Henderson), she held Hardy to an 8.6% win that was well below the historic average of Republican dominance in this often fast-growing collection of suburbs nestled between Anthem and Green Valley.

So far, no Democrat has filed here yet. If that holds, I’ll automatically mark AD 22 as Safe Republican for obvious reasons. But if the Democratic Party does land a decent candidate by next week, I’ll move AD 22 to Likely Republican because this is the kind of seat that will be interesting to watch (again) if 2020 becomes another “Big Blue Wave”.

AD 25: Southwest Reno
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 43.9%, Trump (R) 48.0% 
NV-Sen 2018: Rosen (D) 47.9%, Heller (R) 49.2%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 33.7% D, 40.3% R, 19.7% NP

Assembly Member Jill Tolles (R-Reno) not only represents half of Heidi Seevers Gansert’s Senate seat, but she’s also taken a similar path to Gansert in hewing much closer to the middle than nearly every other Assembly Republican. I can’t help but wonder if Tolles’ more moderate positioning in AD 25 helped her cruise to an easy 59%-41% reelection in 2018 while her colleagues running in similar upscale suburban districts down south had close calls (see AD 2 and AD 22 above) or upset losses (see AD 4 above and AD 37 below). 

Like AD 22, we haven’t seen any Democrat file here yet. If this holds, then I’ll also automatically mark AD 25 as Safe Republican. But if Democrats do put in some effort here, I may move AD 25 to Likely Republican depending on how much effort they put into making further gains in Washoe County.

AD 29: Henderson – Green Valley
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 46.4%, Trump (R) 47.0%
NV-Sen 2018: Rosen (D) 51.2%, Heller (R) 44.6%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 38.4% D, 32.8% R, 22.9% NP

Assembly Member Lesley Cohen (D-Henderson) was first appointed following then Assembly Member April Mastroluca’s (D-Henderson) sudden resignation from the Nevada Legislature late in 2012, then she lost to Stephen Silberkraus (R-Henderson) in the 2014 “Great Red Tide”. Cohen then narrowly regained this seat in the heart of Henderson’s Green Valley in 2016, even as Trump was ever so narrowly winning here. Then in 2018, Cohen enjoyed a relatively easier 5.1% victory over Silberkraus while Rosen and Sisolak were also winning comfortably here.

Cohen not only works hard in the Nevada Legislature, but she’s also always hustled on the campaign trail. Because of her strength as a campaigner, AD 29 snapping back hard toward Democrats in 2018, and current trends suggesting another “suburban surge” toward Democrats in 2020, I’m marking AD 29 as Leans Democratic. It’s certainly not safe for Team Blue just yet, but Republicans need to stop assuming that what worked for them in 2014 will continue working for them in perpetuity.  

AD 31: Sparks and North Valleys
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 42.8%, Trump (R) 48.7%
NV-Sen 2018: Rosen (D) 46.5%, Heller (R) 49.0%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 33.9% D, 38.2% R, 20.9% NP

Like Lesley Cohen, Assembly Member Skip Daly (D-Sparks) also lost his seat in 2014, only to narrowly win it back in 2016 and hold it in 2018. Unlike Cohen, Daly’s AD 31 has gradually become less hospitable for Democrats over the past decade. Even though it’s suburban, the suburbs here tend to be whiter and less college educated than most of the suburban Las Vegas Valley seats that Democrats have flipped over the last two cycles (or four years), and at least the top of the ticket numbers look somewhat rougher here than in AD 25, where Jill Tolles has thus far managed to significantly outperform dwindling Republican margins up-ballot.

Funny enough, Daly has so far managed to do the same for Democrats over here. And even better, the same one term Assembly Member (Jill Dickman [R-Sparks]) who’s been running against Daly since 2014 and perhaps spent her one term in 2015 positioning herself far to the right of most AD 31 voters is running again this year, so perhaps lightning really can strike thrice. For these reasons, I’m initially placing AD 31 in the Tossup column, but I might move this race towards Daly if Republicans actually nominate Dickman to run against him again. While these down-ballot races are increasingly succumbing to national polarization trends, AD 31 is a shining example of why candidate quality still matters in legislative races.

AD 37: Las Vegas – Summerlin North and Northwest Las Vegas
NV-Pres 2016: Clinton (D) 45.8%, Trump (R) 49.0%
NV-Sen 2018: Rosen (D) 48.7%, Heller (R) 47.7%
February 2020 Voter Registration: 38.0% D, 35.9% R, 20.5% NP

In yesterday’s write-up of Nevada’s federal races, I noted how former Assembly Member Jim Marchant (R-Las Vegas) is trading up to run in NV-04 this year despite losing here in AD 37 to now Assembly Member Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas) in 2018. Funny enough, one of the NV-03 Congressional candidates from 2018, former TV reporter Michelle Mortensen (R), is now running here, along with 2016 NV-03 candidate and former NPRI President Andy Matthews (R). 

AD 37 may very well determine (again) whether Democrats keep their Assembly supermajority. For now, I’m marking AD 37 as a Tossup because the margins have been pretty tight up and down the ballot here for the last two years. Backus has her work cut out for her, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that her district is nested into Nicole Cannizzaro’s. 

Finally, my initial overall Nevada Legislature forecast for the 81st Session:
Democratic majority of 26-30 seats (out of 42) in the Assembly
Democratic majority of 13-14 seats (out of 21) in the Senate
Photo by Andrew Davey

As you can now see above, this is why I’m slightly more bullish on Assembly Democrats keeping their ⅔+ supermajority than I am on Senate Democrats finally gaining one on their side of the Nevada Legislature. Assembly Democrats simply have more breathing room, as they just need to keep AD 29 while winning at least two of the four Tossups (AD’s 2, 4, 31, and 37) to keep their supermajority. And to make this task even more feasible, three of those Tossup seats have been shifting leftward in recent cycles while the fourth has a strong incumbent (Skip Daly) who has thus far beaten the odds.

Senate Democrats, however, have to keep SD 5 (which, by the way, does include AD 29) and flip SD 15 and/or 18. While SD 15 is definitely possible given Reno’s recent Democratic trend, Gansert won’t make it easy for Democrats. And as we discussed earlier, SD 18 is a much heavier lift because that stretch of Northwest Las Vegas is somewhat more reliably Republican up and down the ticket.

I know this is a lot, but this is very important. This is your state government. And again, this election may very well determine what becomes of our state in the years ahead. And yes, we’ll talk more about that soon.

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