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Total Recall? More Like Total Bust.

Remember when we discussed Republicans’ rather slim odds of flipping either house of the Nevada Legislature? Those slim odds are diminishing even further today, as the Clark County Election Department and the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office confirmed the long-held suspicion that Republicans never really had enough signatures to trigger a special election in any of their targeted districts.

What does this mean for the Nevada Legislature, and for that one legislator who keeps trying to climb the ladder to something greater? Pull up a chair, as I have a whole lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

Republicans’ chances of a majority were already slim…

Less than a week ago, I detailed Republicans’ long odds of retaking control of the State Senate.

Simply put, Democrats’ offensive targets are limited… And for that matter, so are Republicans’. So long as the courts continue to reject the GOP’s attempt to recall two Democratic Senators, their only realistic chance of retaking the Senate lies in winning the Summerlin based SD 8, where Hillary Clinton narrowly edged out Donald Trump in 2016, and where Senator Patricia Farley (NP-Summerlin South) is retiring after one term. On top of that, Republicans must also figure out a way to flip the Sunrise Manor based SD 21, a solidly Democratic seat where Assembly Member James Ohrenschall (D-Las Vegas) would have to screw up royally to give any Republican any opportunity here.

Republicans also have to play defense in the Southwest Las Vegas Valley based SD 9, where Becky Harris (R-Enterprise) just left to take over the Gaming Control Board in a seat that Hillary Clinton carried by over 8% in 2016. They also have to hold onto the Henderson based SD 20, the very seat that [Senate Minority Leader Michael] Roberson [R-Henderson] himself is vacating to run for Lt. Governor. Trump carried SD 20 by just under 2% in 2016, but Republicans have historically fared better down-ballot, which should help Assembly Member Keith Pickard (R-Henderson) hold this seat for Team Red. The Democratic-trending SD 9, however, will be much harder for Republicans to keep, and that right there may very well guarantee a Democratic Senate majority in 2019.

Long story short: The recalls were essentially Roberson’s “Hail Mary” to shift the odds in the GOP’s favor. But when his efforts failed to secure a special election to remove Farley from office, he really needed the recalls against Senators Joyce Woodhouse (D-Henderson) and Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) to succeed to have any shot of taking the majority next legislative session. And now, Roberson’s last chance at flipping the Senate, and essentially flipping the script for 2018, has just slipped away.

… But now, their chances are far closer to none.

Earlier today, state and county election officials submitted a report to District Court Judge Jerry Wiese (the judge presiding over the recall lawsuits) confirming that Republicans fell short of the signature threshold for either of the remaining districts in play. Even worse for them, the signature counts fall even lower once signature removal requests (or revocations) that were turned in after Republicans submitted their recall petitions are factored in.

Though Republicans can appeal Wiese’s rulings on the post-submission revocations to the Nevada Supreme Court, it’s unlikely they’ll succeed. Even if they somehow convince a majority of Supreme Court justices to overturn Wiese’s ruling, it would be a moot point due to their already low pre-revocation signature counts.

As I explained last week, and as Jon Ralston noted on Twitter this morning, this virtually guarantees that Democrats will keep their legislative majorities this year. With the Assembly map already a huge obstacle, they now have to find a way to flip a heavily Democratic seat in East Las Vegas to get to a Senate majority. Barring a earth-shattering scandal that puts Assembly Member James Ohrenschall (D-Sunrise Manor) out of contention and/or a dramatic change in the national political landscape that currently favors Democrats, that’s just not happening.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen
Photo by Andrew Davey

This was supposed to be Roberson’s big moment… Well, other than that time he helped pass that huge revenue-raising tax reform package that so many in his own party continue to hate with a vengeance. Still, Roberson’s one term as Senate Majority Leader, from 2015 to 2016, provided him with a taste of the power that he’s aspired to amass for so long.

Anyhoo, a restored Republican Senate majority was supposed to be Roberson’s parting gift to his caucus as he rides Adam Laxalt’s (R) coattails all the way into a statewide office (as in, Lieutenant Governor). It was also meant to serve as a warning to anyone who refused to submit to him (as in, a major reason why Farley left his caucus in 2016) that he always finds a way to exact his revenge.

This is probably what stings the most for Roberson. For someone who’s built a political career on the relentless pursuit of power, this failure demonstrates anything but. Rather, he convinced national Republican groups to bankroll this recall campaign, only for him to give them no real return on their investment. He’s been lauded for his knack for working the system to get his way, yet he keeps forgetting the lesson of that famous Rolling Stones song that he really can’t always get what he wants.

But can Roberson get what he needs?

That remains to be seen. While Roberson still has plenty of juice in the Nevada Republican Party, along with a running mate (in Laxalt) who has plenty of access to even more national Republican clout, the failure of these recalls punctures his air of invincibility. Up until now, he had a reputation as a ruthless political genius with a Machiavellian ability to destroy his opponents. This was supposed to be his coup de grace that finished two of his toughest opponents (Farley and Woodhouse), as well as a clever way to rob Democrats of power in Carson City and a rising political star (Cannizzaro).

Instead, Roberson’s big gamble flopped. Perhaps he’ll find a way to recover and save face, as he did after losing a Congressional primary to Danny Tarkanian in 2016, but I doubt he can fully restore that air of invincibility that initially convinced a lot of people in Carson City that he’s somehow destined for greater things. Even if he still manages to win the Lieutenant Governor’s seat in November, he may have a harder time elevating an office that’s been reduced in recent years to a mostly ceremonial role. And if he loses, then he will have to return to the Senate after two ignominious defeats, one to reclaim his majority and the other to climb the political ladder.

Think about that for a moment. For all Roberson’s gambles and gambits, he might have to return to that dreaded Minority Leader position and that upstairs penthouse suite that prevents someone with that position from truly being able to call the shots. That right there infuriates Roberson, and that’s why today’s news is such a huge blow for the Minority Leader who’s been trying so hard to put that very title behind him.

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