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Nevada Today

Nevada Today is a nonpartisan, independently owned and operated site dedicated to providing up-to-date news and smart analysis on the issues that impact Nevada's communities and businesses.

2020 ElectionNevada LegislatureNews and information

Nevada Primary Recap, and an Election Forecast Update

early voting, 2020 Election, election

So Nevada’s primary day has come and gone, and there are still many more ballots left to count. But now that we finally have some primary results to analyze, here we go.

Also, we won’t just be talking about the results themselves, but how people participated in this primary. In short: Nevada, we have a problem.

No really, this primary was problematic. Here’s how (and why).

At first glance, a rough calculation indicates slightly more Republican ballots than Democratic ballots are in the Secretary of State’s official count. However, keep in mind that the official count of just over 274,000 ballots so far (as of 10:30 AM) is just over 69% of the just over 395,000 ballots that have been returned as of this morning. That does not even include the big crowds of last-minute in-person voters. Considering the initial hand-wringing over Republicans’ initial turnout lead in Pennsylvania last week, only for Democrats to later take the lead as more ballots in the more Democratic Philadelphia metro region got counted, we may experience a similar dynamic here in Nevada, depending on how many more ballots are left to count in Clark County.

Now with that out of the way, we need to talk about the bigger issue of why so many voters had to wait over an hour past the official closing time in Washoe County and over seven hours past the official closing time in Clark County. As The Nevada Independent’s Jon Ralston has been trying to explain on social media, what happened here is not equivalent to what happened in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and elsewhere this year in terms of clear-cut, partisan voter suppression. However, just because this wasn’t explicitly partisan voter suppression doesn’t make this innocuous or acceptable.

Now that a special session of the Nevada Legislature is pretty much a fait accompli, state officials have no excuse not to address this. Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske (R) was warned of the consequences of only requiring one in-person vote site per county (only Clark County opted for more, and we still only had three) while making rules restricting who got ballots and how they could return those ballots, yet she stayed her course. Several top Nevada Democrats amplified many of these warnings to Cegavske, yet they didn’t do much in terms of warning voters on the drastic changes to this year’s election. So really, none of them should feign any surprise over the long lines and mass confusion.

Again, since the Nevada Legislature will likely go into special session some time this summer, they have no excuses. If Governor Steve Sisolak (D) and Democratic legislative leaders don’t like Cegavske’s decisions on executing this primary, they can do something about it. They can require that voters receive a better and more advance notice of any future vote-by-mail elections (hint, hint: we still have a dangerous pandemic on our hands), and they can require more secure drop-off sites and in-person voting sites be open and available for those who can not (or, sigh, just will not) vote by mail. At least 390,000 of us did stay home and mail it in for Nevada, so it’s now up to our elected officials to do right by us and fix this mess before general election ballots start dropping in October.

What did the Republicans do?
Photo by Andrew Davey

With that rant out of the way, let’s talk about the results so far. As we’ve previously discussed, Nevada Republicans are still in an ideological tug-of-war. On one side, allies of former Governor Brian Sandoval (R) continue to defend Sandoval’s record and advance candidates who intend to legislate or govern in the mold of Sandoval, the late Kenny Guinn (R), and the late Bill Raggio (R). On the other side, more hard-line conservatives see President Donald Trump’s political success (thus far) and Republicans’ ability to run far-right candidates and win in swing states like Florida and Wisconsin, and they want to replicate that success here in Nevada.

As veteran Republican operative Chuck Muth explained on Monday, the hard-line, far-right Trumpists wanted to send more allies to back up Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus (R-Wellington), while the remaining bulwark of moderate(-ish?) “Sandovalistas” rallied around Assembly Members Jill Tolles (R-Reno) and Tom Roberts (R-Las Vegas), along with their own slate of candidates. 

Annie Black

So how did they do? So far, Titus and the Trumpists have more reasons to celebrate. In the big upset of the day, Assembly Member Chris Edwards (R-Las Vegas) has fallen behind challenger and Mesquite City Council Member Annie Black in Clark County’s AD 19, and it’s not even close (57.7% Black, 42.3% Edwards as of 10:30 AM). In AD 31 in Washoe County, former Assembly Member Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) has reemerged to face incumbent Assembly Member Skip Daly (D-Sparks) for the fourth consecutive election (Dickman won in 2014, then Daly won in 2016 and 2018). Another comeback happened in AD 4 in Northwest Las Vegas, where former Assembly Member Richard McArthur (R-Las Vegas) will get his first rematch against incumbent Assembly Member Connie Munk (D-Las Vegas). And in AD 37 in Summerlin, former NPRI Vice President Andy Matthews won the chance to take on Assembly Member Shea Backus (D-Las Vegas) in the general.

In the open seat AD 2 in Summerlin, Tolles and the “Sandovalistas” prevailed with local realtor Heidi Kasama’s likely primary victory, though she now has a tough general election ahead, probably against Jennie Sherwood (who’s about 4% ahead of Radhika Kunnel in the Democratic primary as of 10:30 AM). And despite concerted far-right efforts to defeat them, current Assembly Member Greg Hafen (R-Pahrump, AD 36) and former Assembly Member P.K. O’Neill (R-Carson City, AD 40) both survived, though Hafen had a closer call against far-right challenger Joe Bradley (52.6% Hafen, 47.3% Bradley so far) in AD 36.

What did the Democrats do?
Photo by Andrew Davey

As I explained last month, Nevada Democrats thus far have mostly avoided the major ideological battles royale that have formed in other states, including in the other states that had down-ballot primaries yesterday. While Democrats in Georgia and South Carolina decided on legislative and local office candidates who could seriously reshape state and local government there, Nevada Democrats navigated through a more complex assortment of allegiances and agendas.

As I pointed out last month, the most poignant example of such has been the high-profile Democratic primary in SD 7, which spans from just east of UNLV to Henderson’s Green Valley and Whitney Ranch. So far this morning, Assembly Member Ellen Spiegel (D-Henderson) has pulled ahead of former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange (40.3% Spiegel, 32.7% Lange as of 10:30 AM). Staying in this area, the open AD 18 seat also provided an interesting surprise in environmental activist and small business owner Lisa Ortega pulling into a 5.5% lead over attorney and activist Venicia Considine. 

Elsewhere, there were no real surprises. All the federal and state level Democratic incumbents coasted, despite last month’s chatter over the revelation of Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-North Las Vegas) extramarital relationship with Gabriela Linder, and despite this week’s Daily Beast story on Rep. Susie Lee’s (D-Las Vegas) spouse’s gaming company taking CARES Act funding that she lobbied to extend to the gaming industry. Again, it’s a remarkable contrast between the absolute turmoil amongst Nevada Republicans and the relative shortage of strife on the Democratic side.

And finally, our general election forecast… remains unchanged (at least, for now).
Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

Just as I did last month with the Horsford story, I’m waiting to see if there will be any political fallout with the new Lee story. National reporters and pundits are starting to make hay of it. But in a state like ours where the gaming industry is such a huge component to our economy, and with no direct evidence (thus far) indicating Lee used her office to direct money specifically to her spouse’s company, this may yet fall off the radar, akin to the Horsford story.

For now, I’m keeping both NV-03 and NV-04 in the Likely Democratic column. On paper, both districts are exactly the kind of swing districts with thin enough margins to give Republicans a big opening when these kinds of scandals become headline news. But with Republicans now stuck with C-List nominees (probably Jim Marchant in NV-04, and almost certainly Dan Rodimer in NV-03) with lackluster fundraising and their own embarrassing scandals, Republicans are in anything but a prime position to take advantage of Horsford’s and Lee’s ugly news cycles. 

Photo by Andrew Davey

Also, there’s the matter of the top of the ticket: With an ever growing mountain of scandals surrounding Donald Trump, it’s quite the stretch for the Trump campaign to rely on a theoretical “V-shaped recovery”, a theoretical “Law and Order”/“Blue Lives Matter” backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement, and a theoretical “Democrats in Disarray!” response to a theoretical George W. Bush endorsement of Joe Biden to reshape the national and swing state landscapes that increasingly seem to favor Biden

Because of this, I’m keeping Nevada’s presidential race as Likely Democratic. If nothing else, Biden’s strong position at the top of the Democratic ticket may very well be enough to pull Horsford and Lee across the finish line. Also because of what seems to be happening at the top of the ticket, Democrats’ majorities in the Legislature remain safe. And for now, I continue to view Democrats’ chance of a Senate ⅔+ supermajority as a Tossup while the Assembly still Leans Democratic Supermajority.

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