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Primary Lessons: What Happened, and Why It (Still) Matters

With the votes counted and the dust beginning to settle, it’s time to take a closer look at what just happened. Sure, Steve Sisolak (D) and Steven Horsford (D) enjoyed bigger than expected primary victories. However, the story doesn’t end there… And the Republicans’ primaries may be more interesting than they initially appear. 

A word on Steve Sisolak’s big night
Photo by Andrew Davey

As we now know, Steve Sisolak is the Democratic Gubernatorial nominee. He won by a somewhat better than expected 11% margin over Chris Giunchigliani. Not only did he win their shared Clark County home base by nearly 19%, but he also made more than enough inroads in Rural Nevada, even winning Douglas and Lyon Counties and nearing a tie with “Chris G” in Carson City. She did win Washoe County by almost 13%, but it just wasn’t enough.

In a fairly encouraging sign for Democrats, their combined Gubernatorial vote outpaced the Republicans’ by just over 1% in a two-party matchup. Even better for Democrats, their 2018 turnout was double that of 2014 levels, while Republicans increased their turnout by a more modest 21%. If this year proves to be like other midterms in that general election turnout is higher overall and more Democratic than the primary, Sisolak has reason to feel confident today.

And then, there’s Donald Trump… Oops, I mean Adam Laxalt
Photo by Andrew Davey

While Nevadans were voting yesterday, President Donald Trump decided to officially weigh in on our election (again). This time, he took to Twitter to endorse Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R).

Within minutes, Laxalt tweeted this response.

If anyone was thinking that Laxalt might “soften” or “moderate” his hard-right, pro-Trump stance on just about everything, from immigration to gun violence and health care, this Twitter exchange suggests to me that it’s just not happening. For better or worse, Nevada Republicans remain tied at the hip to Donald Trump. Ultimately, I suspect it’s for the worse. Despite Republican operatives’ best efforts to spin it otherwise, Trump remains unpopular nationally and here in Nevada.

Mainly for this reason, I’m maintaining NV-Gov as Leans Democratic. Yes, Jon Ralston has a point about the primary leaving Sisolak poorer and politically bruised. However, Hugh Jackson also has a point about Democrats needing to run on Laxalt’s affinity for Trump and turn out their voters to get the job done. And with progressive groups like American Bridge and AFSCME already firing up anti-Laxalt TV ads,

The trouble with Dean Heller
Photo by Andrew Davey

It’s not just Adam Laxalt who has a Donald Trump problem. In the Senate race (NV-Sen), Dean Heller (R) has done everything possible to remind Nevadans that he too has a deep bromance with Trump. Even after he recently attempted to distance himself from Trump’s anti-immigrant platform, he quickly turned around and boasted to a private audience that he only supports immigration legislation that Trump approves of. And even after Heller stood with Governor Brian Sandoval (R) to promise not to vote for any legislation that jeopardizes Nevadans’ health care access, he’s since gone ahead to cosponsor legislation that does exactly what Heller promised not to do.

Thanks to Trump’s endorsement, Heller managed to (barely) clear 70% in his primary. And yet, he still attracted some 11,000 fewer votes in his primary than Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) in hers. Even worse for Heller, just over 1,000 more votes were cast in the Democratic primary than the Republicans’. Again, it’s a reminder that Republicans shouldn’t bet on a repeat of 2014.

For this reason, I’m also keeping NV-Sen as Leans Democratic. Heller is managing to remain competitive, but I remain doubtful that his good rapport with the Trump administration is good for his reelection campaign.

Bringing down the House
Photo courtesy of United States Congress

As I mentioned last night, the 4th Congressional District (NV-04) ultimately gave us quite the surprise… Just not the one I was prepared for. With nearly all the votes counted, former Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) scored a commanding 62% finish in what was supposed to be a competitive Democratic primary. Whereas on the Republican side, former Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-Bunkerville) whimpered his way to a mere 47% finish against a field of no-name’s and also-ran’s. Between this and the decent (if not particularly dazzling) Democratic turnout here, I feel more confident about upgrading NV-04 from Leans Democratic to Likely Democratic, as Horsford’s campaign is finally showing the kind of “oomph” and “wow factor” in 2018 that never materialized in 2014.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

As for the 3rd Congressional District (NV-03), Susie Lee (D) also scored a solid 67% victory in her primary. Even better for Democrats, they cast about 4.8% more votes than Republicans in this perpetually swingy seat. Despite Trump’s endorsement, Danny Tarkanian (R) only got 44% in his primary. And because he’s done so much to merit Trump’s seal of approval, it’s still hard for me to imagine how he expands his appeal beyond the typical Trump-Tarkanian hard-right base. For the time being, I’m keeping NV-03 as Leans Democratic.

Yes, “The Trump Factor” is still a thing
Photo by Andrew Davey

Since last night, brothel mogul Dennis Hof pulled ahead and unseated Assembly Member James Oscarson (R-Pahrump) in the 36th District Republican primary. Though this primary has attracted a ton of attention due to Hof’s reality TV fame and storied reputation in the sex industry, my hunch has always been that there’s much more to this race than Hof’s salacious background. Oscarson famously voted for Governor Sandoval’s 2015 tax plan, and he’s generally had a more moderate voting record than one would expect for a legislator whose district includes Nye and Lincoln Counties.

In isolation, it’s easy to giggle over “the pimp who beat the choir boy”. But when we examine the larger picture, it fits into a more disturbing pattern. In South Carolina, Rep. Mark Sanford (R) lost his primary to a far-right state legislator. In Virginia, Republicans nominated neo-Confederate fetishist Corey Stewart to challenge U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D) and made Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) sweat in her primary against a fringe challenger. And back home in Nevada, Dean Heller and Adam Laxalt have done everything possible to cozy up to Trump, just to win their primaries and keep their base happy.

Notice the pattern that’s playing out across the nation? Hint: It rhymes with Ronald Bump. He will likely continue to play an outsized role in this year’s election, and Republicans should probably prepare to pay the price for it.

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