Caroline Vakil, The Hill October 11, 2022
Signs are emerging that Nevada could see a red wave in November, putting Democratic control of a critical state at risk and potentially costing the party its Senate majority.
Recent polling has shown Republican Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt leading Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), albeit within the margin of error, and demonstrated that Republicans’ preferred midterm issue — the economy and inflation — is dominating the minds of residents from the tourism-focused state.
While Democrats and their allies argue that races have always been close in the swing state, they acknowledge that the stakes are a little higher there this year.
“We’re fighting against history here,” said Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Workers Union, a powerful Nevada union, in reference to the headwinds the president’s party faces in midterm cycles. The organization has led major canvassing efforts to support Democratic candidates like Cortez Masto and Gov. Steve Sisolak.
“We worked our butts off, a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the last, really, 20 years of building this organization, getting a little bigger each cycle. And we’re not going to go backwards. We’re going to talk to as many voters and do what it takes to win,” he said.
Sisolak is running for reelection against Republican candidate Joe Lombardo, the sheriff of Clark County. While Democrats are facing headwinds at the national level, Cortez Masto and Sisolak, both first-term incumbents, are also facing unique challenges at home as residents are still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on Nevada’s tourism-heavy economy. Meanwhile, President Biden’s approval ratings are underwater in the state.
And then there’s last year’s death of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who was revered for his ability to turn out voters in the state and notch key Democratic victories. His death has left political observers wondering how well the “Reid machine” will work without its leader.
Jon Ralston, CEO of The Nevada Independent and a widely respected political commentator in the state, said Democrats “have to turn out, and the so-called Reid machine, which was started by Harry Reid, needs to show it still can work even without Harry Reid around.”
“They’ve been masterful for several cycles in registering and turning out voters. Now, the registration numbers are not what they used to be. The Democratic lead is much smaller than it usually is this time of year.”
Reps. Susie Lee (D-Nev.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.) are also facing competitive House races this cycle. Titus is running against Republican candidate Mark Robertson, a retired Army colonel, in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Lee is running against GOP contender April Becker, an attorney, in the 3rd Congressional District. Both races are viewed as toss-ups by the nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report.
The midterm environment in Nevada has left Republicans like Zachary Moyle, former executive director for the Nevada GOP, feeling good about their prospects in the state.
“We’re looking at a good year for Republicans, whether you call it a wave, whether you call it something else. The bottom line is you’re looking at a very good year for Republicans,” he said. “The question has always been how good of a year, and you don’t really need to ask Republicans to find that out. You need just look at the way Democrats are campaigning, and it will tell you what they think.”
Another GOP strategist predicted that voters would seek a different direction and vote for Republicans given how the economy has hit the Silver State. The strategist also said that Laxalt and Lombardo had a “natural connection” on the issue of crime, another issue the person believed would be on voters’ minds.
The polling so far suggests Republicans have reason to be optimistic. A CNN poll released last week, for example, showed Laxalt leading Cortez Masto 48 percent to 46 percent among likely voters, while Sisolak trailed Lombardo 46 percent to 48 percent. Both fall within the margin of error, effectively showing both races tied. Among registered voters polled, it either found the Democrat leading slightly or tying with the Republican.
A Nevada Independent-OH Predictive Insights poll released earlier this month also showed Jim Marchant, the Republican candidate for secretary of state who has repeatedly pushed baseless allegations that the 2020 election was rigged, is polling ahead of Democrat Cisco Aguilar at 39 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
Elizabeth Ray, a spokesperson for Lombardo’s campaign, argued in a statement that Republican candidates was gaining momentum “because Nevadans believe in Joe’s vision of better schools, safer streets, and a stronger economy for our state” while calling Sisolak’s track record “frustration and failure.”
But Democrats believe voters will recognize their track records differently.
“Senator Cortez Masto has worked to lower prescription drug costs, hold Big Oil accountable for rising gas prices, and protect a woman’s right to choose. Adam Laxalt opposes the legislation bringing down costs for Nevada families, defends Big Oil, and thinks Roe v. Wade is ‘a joke’ — that’s why Nevadans will reject him like they did in 2018,” said Sigalle Reshef, a spokesperson for Cortez Masto’s campaign.
Molly Forgey, a spokesperson for Sisolak’s campaign, argued the race remains competitive.
“While the governor works to lower costs by investing in critical programs that make housing, prescription drugs, health care, and child care more affordable, Joe Lombardo is more concerned with ripping away Nevadans’ access to reproductive health care,” Forgey said in a statement.
Nail-bitter elections are nothing new in Nevada. Cortez Masto won her seat in 2016 against Republican candidate Joe Heck by just over 2 percentage points, while Sisolak won in 2018 against Laxalt, the GOP gubernatorial nominee that year, by 4 points.
In 2020, Biden won the state over former President Trump by roughly 2 percentage points.
“Nevada’s three states in one. It’s Clark County, which has 70 percent of the vote. It’s Washoe County, which has anywhere from 15 to 18 percent of the vote. And then it’s the rural counties — the 15 other counties that are the rest of the vote,” said Ralston of The Nevada Independent.
“The way for Republicans to win statewide is to cut the Clark County margin to single digits, to win overwhelmingly in rural Nevada and have a wash in Washoe County,” he continued, before adding: “[If] the Democrats are not crushing the Republicans in Clark County, they’re going to lose.”
Some political observers warn that more hinges on the Nevada races than mere control of the Senate or the governor’s mansion.
“Those top races, which usually carry the coattails of lower races, is absolutely vital, because if Joe Lombardo were to get a lot of momentum or Adam Laxalt were to get a lot of momentum, the chances of having a Republican slate elected can be high. And for Nevada, that’s very damaging in the long-term,” Kami Dempsey-Goudie, a political consultant in the state who’s worked for candidates in both parties, said in reference to other GOP contenders like Marchant.
Marchant’s campaign dismissed criticism directed at him in a statement to The Hill, saying, “Monday morning quarterbacks are welcome to their commentary.”
But even some Republicans are uncertain about seeing a GOP sweep in the state, alluding to the quality of this particular slate of candidates.
“I would prefer a pink tidal pool with our nominees currently,” said Amy Tarkanian, former Nevada GOP chair. “Because I think, in the end, I’m more concerned about Nevada overall over party, and I don’t think that some of our candidates would do it justice, and it would be an embarrassment.”