Polls show GOP hopefuls running strong in governor, Senate and House contests as economic worries weigh on the state’s Democrats
by Jim Carlton and Siobhan Hughest, The Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2022
LAS VEGAS—Nevada Republicans stand in their strongest position in years, as polls show them with a solid chance to win multiple midterm races in a state where high prices on everything from gasoline to rent are driving voters away from Democrats.
The state’s top Democrats, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak, are essentially tied with their respective GOP challengers, Adam Laxalt and Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, according to FiveThirtyEight’s poll averages. Multiple recent surveys of the state show the two Republicans with leads in the low single digits, and Ms. Cortez Masto is considered by strategists in both parties to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the 50-50 Senate.
Two incumbent House Democrats, Reps. Dina Titus and Susie Lee, are in races rated as tossups by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, while a third—Rep. Steven Horsford—is in a contest rated as leaning Democrat. The state’s fourth House seat is the only one currently held by a Republican.
Toppling some or all of those Democrats would help tilt Nevada red at a time when Republican control of the state has been on the wane amid an influx of Latinos and other new arrivals with higher Democratic registrations. Democrats have won Nevada in each of the past four presidential elections.
Polls and interviews with voters suggest that economic pressures, particularly among working-class and Latino voters, are driving the potential shift toward the GOP.
Taxi driver George Allen, for example, blames Democratic leaders at home and in Washington for Covid-19 policies that he said have fueled the price increases, such as workers being paid to stay home during lockdowns. “If they had addressed the problems properly in the very beginning, then we probably would not be in the scenario we are now,” the bearded 65-year-old registered Republican said in his cab earlier this month.
A CBS News/YouGov poll taken in mid-October found that 76% of Nevada voters said higher prices overall were “a hardship” or “difficult” and that 84% said higher gas prices had some or a lot of impact on their families.
Nevada has characteristics that make the inflation issue particularly salient. Gasoline prices in Nevada are the fifth-highest in the nation, according to AAA, averaging $5.04 a gallon as of Oct. 25, compared with the national average of $3.78 a gallon. Over the past year, rents went up more than $250 a month for 28% of tenants in Nevada, second highest in the U.S. behind Florida, according to an August survey by research firm HelpAdvisor.
Nevada is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and three-quarters of the state’s 3 million residents live in metropolitan Las Vegas, with many of them working service jobs tied to the tourism industry.
Because working-class people tend to have lower incomes and thus the smallest cushion to absorb rising prices, Nevadans take it on the chin when inflation remains high. Some 72% of Nevadans haven’t earned a college degree, according to Census Bureau data, compared with 65% nationally.
Republicans have been hammering away over the costs of gasoline, groceries and housing in Nevada. In the Senate race alone, since the June primaries through Oct. 25, Republicans have spent $9.4 million on ads focused on inflation, according to data from AdImpact, compared with $1.4 million spent by Democrats on the topic.
Democrats have instead focused on claiming that corporate greed is to blame for much of the inflation. Their ads have accused oil companies of price gouging and, as with an ad from Mr. Horsford, attributed high housing and rental costs to “corporate speculators driving up prices.”
That is a message that resonates with 35-year-old Marcos Rivera, who along with his wife and their young child were forced to move in with his parents after a 30% rent increase this year. “I feel like the Republicans only look for their own self-interest,” said Mr. Rivera, a housekeeping porter in downtown Las Vegas.
Analysts say it may be hard for Democrats to get more voters to buy into that message. “In a high inflationary environment, the party that is in the majority and controls policy, particularly with a like-minded president in the Oval Office, is going to get the blame for unsatisfying performances,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Nevada Democrats have another problem: The coalition of Latinos and other Democratic groups that helped win past elections isn’t as unified. In Nevada, support for Democrats dropped to 60% among Latinos in 2020, from 67% in 2018, according to data analytics firm Catalist, and Latinos comprise nearly a quarter of eligible voters in Nevada.
In Las Vegas, Ecuadorean immigrant Iris R. Jones plans to cast ballots for all Republican candidates because she believes Democratic lawmakers have hurt her pocketbook. “I believe in working hard without depending on the government,” said Ms. Jones, a 37-year-old real-estate agent who blames Democratic spending for raising her costs for such essentials as gasoline, which have jumped from between $500 and $600 a month a year ago to $800.
Democrats’ major strategy is to deploy the same kind of ground game that helped them sweep statewide races in the 2018 midterms. That will be more of a challenge this year, because the registration advantage Democrats have held over Republicans has shrunk from 5.8% then to 3.7%, according to state data.
All told this year, the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 plans to have knocked on more than one million doors this year—up from 650,000 in 2020—to encourage people to vote for Democrats. Those will include more than half of all Latino and Black voter homes in the state and more than one-third of Asians, said Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the 60,000-member local.
Democrats are using concerns over rising rents as one of their top talking points. Canvassing in a North Las Vegas neighborhood earlier this month, culinary worker Silvia Caja asked Guadalupe Bretado at his door if he had experienced rent increases. “Yes, three times,” Mr. Bretado, a 64-year-old retiree, replied in Spanish. Although he wasn’t registered to vote, Mr. Bretado agreed to Ms. Caja’s suggestion he do so and mark his ballot for Democrats she said would rein in costs.
Still, Republicans only have to peel off some Democratic voters to win, said Jeremy Hughes, a GOP political consultant in Washington who is working with Nevada campaigns. “Just moving the needle four or five points in the Black, Latino and Asian communities will pay huge dividends for Republicans and help us build a broad-based coalition for cycles to come,” Mr. Hughes said.
Paul Overberg contributed to this article.