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Primary Matters: Notes on “Super Tuesday”, and a Sneak Preview of Nevada

Yesterday voters in several states, including our next door neighbors in California, cast ballots and determined who will be advancing to the general election. Not only are we learning who will be on the November ballot, but we’re also discovering some key clues on where these elections are heading. There were a few surprising glimmers of hope for Republicans on the coasts, though those glimmers appeared amidst a “Blue Wave” that still seems to be building in Democrats’ favor.

So what happened last night, and why does it matter to us here? Let’s dig into all the political goodness (and badness?) from “Super Tuesday 2018”.

Garden State blues

Let’s start with New Jersey. The Garden State is playing host to several races that will decide the balance of power in Congress. And so far, almost everything is coming up roses for Democrats.

In not one, not two, but three historically Republican seats, more Democrats than Republicans voted in the primary. And not just that, but Democrats managed to nominate their top-tier candidates with relative ease while Republicans struggled with bruising primary contests. If Democrats manage to win the three seats where they outvoted Republicans this month, they will be in a solid position to take control of the House of Representatives this fall.

However, New Jersey also offered this ominous warning for Democrats: Incumbent Senator Bob Menendez (D) won his primary, but with an underwhelming 62% of the Democratic vote against a fringe challenger. He’s been making headlines lately, but for all the wrong reasons, chiefly his intervention with federal agencies on behalf of a wealthy donor who was continuing to shower him with gifts. Though Menendez is probably still likely to win in November, it’s perplexing that New Jersey Democratic leaders continue to protect him and risk giving Republicans a potent issue to use against the entire party this year.

Surfing USA, the California way

As famed philosopher Tupac Shakur once rapped, “I’m goin’, goin’, back, back, to Cali, Cali.” As a California native myself, it’s been nothing short of jaw-dropping to see my original home state become the political epicenter in 2018 America.

Republicans sensed they were in trouble, so they took some steps to prepare. One was a recall of State Senator Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) for daring to vote to raise revenue to fix the roads, an eerily similar power play to what Nevada Republicans attempted here. But in California, Republicans have just succeeded in recalling Newman and juicing up their base turnout in a stretch of Orange County that just so happens to overlap with one of the Republican-held U.S. House seats that Democrats are trying to flip.

Nonetheless, California Democrats still escaped the “Top Two” disaster of their worst nightmares by getting Democratic candidates into the general election in all the districts they’re contesting. Not only that, but the combined Democratic vote share topped 50% in the San Diego to Dana Point based 49th District where incumbent Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) is retiring, and Democrats came encouragingly close to 50% in fellow Orange County based 45th and 48th Districts.

Even in the Legislature, Democrats found some good news with strong numbers in two Republican-held Senate seats in the Central Valley where they can avenge their Orange County loss, and an automatic pickup in a San Diego County Assembly seat where Republicans just got locked out. Even though Republicans managed to avoid another “Top Two” lockout in the Gubernatorial election thanks to a last-minute assist from President Donald Trump, they couldn’t get one of their own to face Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) in the general election, and Trump probably won’t do them any more favors in a state where he remains overwhelmingly unpopular.

What happened elsewhere

In 2016, Donald Trump seemed to help ascend Iowa Republicans to a place of dominance in the historically swingy Hawkeye State. But in 2018, Iowa Democrats seem to be bouncing back with solid primary turnout and a solid group of candidates who may yet prove that Iowa can still swing blue.

Unlike Iowa, New Mexico has generally been shifting in the Democrats’ direction for the past decade. Come November, the Land of Enchantment will probably send the nation’s first Native American woman to Congress and put a Latina Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion. Not only did Democrats dramatically outperform Republicans in primary turnout statewide, but Democratic turnout even managed to edge past Republicans’ in the 2nd Congressional District, the rural southern end of the state where Republicans tend to do best.

Meanwhile in Missouri, Democrats managed to make up for their California recall loss by flipping a State Senate seat just outside Kansas City… And winning by a whopping 20% in a seat that Trump carried by 5% two years ago. Not only did this special election occur in the shadow of Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) scandal-driven resignation, but it also offers fresh encouragement to U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D) as she runs for reelection in this hardened red state.

Why does any of this matter to us in Nevada?

Let’s start with our own Senator Dean Heller (R). To paraphrase Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost, “You in danger.” He need not look any further than New Jersey and California to see what’s happening to his Republican colleagues who have wholeheartedly embraced Donald Trump’s agenda. Same goes for Attorney General and Gubernatorial hopeful Adam Laxalt (R), as he’s also pinning his hopes on running with Trump and against California.

But before Democrats get too giddy, they should also heed the warnings from New Jersey and California. They can’t just expect voters to choose anyone with a (D) next to name, and they can’t just make a wish and expect their voters to turn out in great numbers. Though our early voting turnout has looked fairly promising for Democrats thus far, there’s still room for improvement if they want to prove that the “Blue Wave” will wash its way across Nevada.

As for who will win here, I’m still sticking with my most recent forecast, though there may be a little room for upsets in the Gubernatorial and 4th Congressional District Democratic primaries. And as soon as we’re done with the primary, I’ll have a new general election forecast ready for you. Happy trails, and happy voting!

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