After a mostly negative year in the news, Nevada Democrats head into 2022 holding all but one statewide office, near supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, three of four U.S. House seats, and both U.S. Senate seats. Nearly all of this could change in the 2022 midterm elections. Democrats have better candidates and more money, especially for statewide offices, but will it be enough to combat a Republican-friendly national political environment and President Biden’s low approval ratings?
In November, Nevada Democrats proposed a controversial congressional map that shored up Democratic representatives Susie Lee (NV-3) and Steven Horsford (NV-4) from Biden+0.2 to Biden +6.7 and Biden+3.9 to Biden+8.3. Nevada’s 1st Congressional district, which was last represented by a Republican in 1999 and has been safely Democratic since, was redrawn as a competitive district changing from Biden+25.1 to Biden+8.5. The map drew criticism from Hispanic advocacy groups because it split the Hispanic population between the three southern Nevada districts rather than keeping it together to help elect a candidate of choice. Democrats in the legislature claimed it was reflective of communities in southern Nevada. All three southern NV seats are majority-minority. District 2, which encompasses most of the northern portion of Nevada — including Reno, Carson City, Elko, etc — picked up rural White Pine county and part of Lyon County and should remain safely in Republicans’ hands.
Nevada’s 1st Congressional district encompasses most of eastern Las Vegas and Sunrise Manor, some of the most heavily Hispanic parts of the state, as well as Henderson, a light red suburban city. Incumbent Dina Titus represents this district which has been safe since 2010 redistricting but became about 17 points less Democratic during the 2021 redistricting process. At the time, she lost to Joe Heck by fewer than 2,000 votes. Titus is also fending off a primary challenge from the left by Amy Vilela, the 2020 Nevada State Co-Chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign. On the Republican side, there are eight candidates vying for the nomination including former NV-4 Congressman Crescent Hardy, Nevada Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for the Trump campaign Caroline Serrano, and professor Mark Robertson. Titus hasn’t had a great history facing off in competitive races, failing to capture the governorship for Democrats in 2006 as well as narrowly losing NV-3 in 2010, a district which Obama has won two years before by double digits (map below.) The combination of a bad environment for Democrats and a lack of existing campaign infrastructure could be fatal for Titus.
Map of Dina Titus’s 2010 loss to Joe Heck
Nevada’s 2nd Congressional district, which encompasses most of the Northern half of the state, is the only district that is safe for either party and is also the only Trump-won Congressional district in the state. Though the seat may be safe for the GOP, there is a contested primary where perennial candidate (and current Douglas County Commissioner) Danny Tarkanian is challenging incumbent Mark Amodei. Tarkanian has run for Congress several times in the last decade, losing to Steven Horsford in NV-4 in 2012, Jacky Rosen in 2016, and Susie Lee in 2018 (both in NV-3). In 2016, Tarkanian was the only Republican House candidate to lose an open seat that Trump won. Although Tarkanian is a weak candidate, if he were to beat Amodei in the Republican primary, he would be favored to win this election. Amodei has pivoted to the right since Tarkanian filed to run, sending out emails decrying “Liz Cheney’s Jan. 6th Witch hunt” to try and stop former President Trump from endorsing Tarkanian. Amodei is a proven overperformer and has never lost a county in his 6 runs for Congress, though Washoe County, home to Reno, has been getting closer over the years. Democrats have several candidates in the race, but with no clear favorite nominee, the historical right lean of the district, and a bad national political landscape for Democrats, this race should be relatively easy for the GOP.
Nevada’s 3rd Congressional district is historically the most competitive in the state. During 2012 redistricting, a court-appointed panel drew it to have an equal registration advantage between Republicans and Democrats. The new district encompasses most of the fastest-growing parts of the Las Vegas Valley: Enterprise, Spring Valley, and Summerlin. This is the whitest district out of the three democratic districts, though it has the highest Asian-American population which accounts for over 20% of the district’s population. Throughout the decade, this seat has been used as a stepping stone for statewide office with both Joe Heck and Jacky Rosen leaving the seat to run for Senate. In 2018, Susie Lee, the incumbent, was elected for the first time against Danny Tarkanian winning by around 9%. In 2020, she faced a much tougher challenge from Big Dan Rodimer whom she fended off with a 3% 2in while Biden only carried the district by 0.2%. While Lee was shored up over 6 points in redistricting, she is still going to face her toughest re-election yet amid scandals and accusations that she failed to properly disclose almost $3.3 million in stock trades. In Congress, Susie Lee has a relatively moderate voting record but is facing a primary challenge from the right by Randell Hynes who is an anti-two party system advocate, but decided he had a better chance at winning the election as a Democrat. Lee should fend off this challenge relatively easily. On the Republican side, five challengers are vying for the nomination with April Becker leading the pack. Becker is a newer candidate, coming just 1% short of ousting Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro in 2020. On paper, this should be Nevada’s most competitive House race in 2022 and throughout the rest of the decade as well.
Nevada’s 4th congressional district is easily one of the most geographically polarized in the country. It covers the southern half of Nevada’s rural counties (Esmeralda, Lincoln, Lyon, Mineral, and Nye) and dips into the deep blue areas of North Las Vegas and Las Vegas to keep it blue-leaning. This district is currently represented by Democrat Steven Horsford. This seat was created after the 2010 census when Nevada gained a congressional district and its first representative was Horsford who defeated Danny Tarkanian in 2012, but ultimately lost to Crescent Hardy in 2014. Hardy would go on to lose to Ruben Kihuen in 2016 (who defeated current NV-3 representative Susie Lee in a primary for the seat). Kihuen ultimately ended up opt-out of reelection due to sexual misconduct allegations against him paving the way for Horsford to reclaim his old seat in 2018. This seat is by far the most rapidly right trending in Nevada as Dems’ rural margins have crashed along with the rightward shift of North Las Vegas and the other blue parts of the district. Horsford has no Democratic challengers, so his path to the nomination should be smooth. There are three Republican challengers and the favorite is likely Assemblywoman Annie Black. Out of the three democratic districts, this is most heavily reliant on minority turnout which could crater in this upcoming midterm. Horsford is still slightly favored, but by no means is it going to be an easy race.
There is a pattern emerging in most of Nevada’s upcoming statewide races: Moderate Democrat incumbents who are higher quality candidates and have more money are being challenged by Republicans who are essentially the human form of GOP talking points of screaming about CRT and denying the election results. Nevada’s light blue tint of the last four years may not be enough to stop Democrats from losing most, if not all of these offices.
In 2016, Catherine Cortez-Masto became the first Hispanic woman elected to the United States Senate. She won the state by 2.4%, almost identical to Clinton’s margin of 2.42%. One of the more notable differences between the two candidates was Masto’s failure to win Washoe County, though she did perform better in Clark, mainly in heavily Hispanic areas. Her likely opponent, Adam Laxalt, has also lost Washoe county in his two runs for Nevada statewide office. In 2014, when running for Attorney General, he managed to pull off a win of just under 1% while losing both Washoe and Clark. Laxalt also failed to win Washoe in his 2018 Gubernatorial loss to Steve Sisolak. Though Laxalt is the favorite for the Republican nomination, he does have some unexpected competition. His opponent, Captain Sam Brown, has unexpectedly raised over $1 million in several quarters in the past year. Brown still trails Laxalt in polling but this race should still be interesting. The last Republican to represent Nevada in the senate by winning this seat was Adam Laxalt’s grandpa, Paul Laxalt. This Class III Senate seat has seen its fair share of competitive races over the last 36 years, but since Harry Reid first won it in 1986, it has remained Democratic. The Senate Majority PAC (D) has also placed $14.1 million of ad buys in Nevada to protect this seat in addition to the $10 million Senator Masto herself has raised. A PAC led by Mitch McConnell is set to spend around $15 million in the state which could offset the money advantage Masto has enjoyed thus far. This is set to be the most expensive race in Nevada’s history.
Incumbent Governor Steve Sisolak is facing an astoundingly large field of 15 republican challengers as well as a Democratic primary challenge, the latter of which should be easily fended off. Sisolak was first elected in 2018 by a margin of 4.1% becoming the first Democrat to win the NV Governorship since Bob Miller in 1994. Sisolak was also the first Democrat to win the governor’s mansion without Mineral County since 1914 when there was a total of just over 21000 votes cast in the election. The Republican field for Governor is …… interesting. The current frontrunner, and the most electable Republican in the general, is Clark County, Sheriff Joe Lombardo. He has a solid electoral track record in past sheriff races, though they are nonpartisan. Former Senator Dean Heller is polling as the runner-up in this race and has picked up some polling steam after he pivoted right and started calling President Biden an illegitimately elected president. He is followed in polling by lawyer Joey Gilbert, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee (who switched from D to R last year), and Guy Nohra.
The most successful Democratic candidate in 2018 was the Lieutenant Gubernatorial nominee, Kate Marshall. She is the only Democrat in the last decade to beat Obama 2012’s 6.68% margin of victory. She won by 6.69%, mainly due to stronger numbers in Northern Nevada and a relatively weak opponent who wasn’t able to get more than 44% of the vote. However, last September, Marshall resigned her post to serve as the first Senior Advisor to Governors for the White House. The Lieutenant Governor position remained vacant for several months until Sisolak appointed Lisa Cano Burkhead, a former educator, to the position. Burkhead is running for election to a full term this cycle but is not running unopposed in the primary. Henderson Mayor Debra March, who wanted to be appointed to the position, is also running to be the Democratic nominee. There are also several Republicans running and leading the field are former NV Treasurer Dan Schwartz and Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony. The results of this race should be very similar to the gubernatorial race and it is highly unlikely there will be a governor of one party and a lieutenant of another.
Incumbent Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske is the lone Republican who holds statewide office in Nevada. She was first elected in 2014 defeating State Treasurer Kate Marshall. In 2018, she defeated State Assemblyman Nelson Araujo by 0.7%. Cegavske is termed out this cycle, but even if she wasn’t, it isn’t likely she would have survived a primary. She was one of the few Republicans nationwide who pushed back against claims of election fraud in the state. Cisco Aguilar, an attorney and former staffer of Harry Reid, is the only Democratic candidate. The Republican side is led by 2020 NV-4 nominee Jim Marchant whose “number one priority will be to overhaul the fraudulent election system in Nevada.” The Nevada Legislature has prioritized the expansion and ease of voting and flipping this office is vital to keeping their progress.
Attorney General Aaron Ford was elected in 2018 by just under 1%, which lagged far behind the top of the ticket. Ford performed worse in suburban areas due to his opponent, Wes Duncan blanketing airwaves with ads focusing on Ford’s past arrests. This upcoming November, he will likely face either Tisha Black or Sigal Chattah, both Las Vegas lawyers. Ford has a massive cash advantage, having over 5x cash on hand compared to his opponents.
Zach Conine, the incumbent treasurer of NV, was also elected by a slim margin of 0.6%, defeating former state senator Bob Beers. This time around, he is likely to face Las Vegas City Councilwoman and self-described “Lady Trump” Michelle Fiore. Fiore had initially filed to run for governor, but after it became clear she would not win the Trump endorsement, she switched to the Treasurer race. Since she switched, she has spent more money than she has raised leaving her with only $35k COH while Conine has raised more than $144k in the last corner and has placed a $368k ad buy to run in NV before election season. As is with most statewide races, Dems have the financial edge but it may not be enough.
Incumbent Controller Catherine Byrne is not running for reelection this year making it one of two open positions statewide. Two Democrats, Alex Costa and former State Assemblywoman Ellen Speigel, are running to face off against State Assemblyman Andy Matthews.
In the State Senate, Democrats hold a 12-9 majority. Only half the seats in the senate are up this year and there are only three truly competitive seats: 8,9, and 12. If the NV GOP wants to flip the chamber, they must win all three of these seats. Nevada’s 8th Senate District is located in Summerlin, a suburban portion of Las Vegas, and is currently repped by Marilyn Dondero-Loop. Dondero-Loop is by far the most endangered incumbent in the Senate in a light blue Biden+4.2 seat. On the Republican side, there are 8 candidates vying for the nomination to try and flip this district in November. SD 12 is located in the Green Valley/Silverado Ranch area of Henderson and although it is a Biden won district (by roughly 6%), it has a Republican incumbent not running for reelection. There are two Democrats, Julie Pazina and Lisa Guzman, along with two Republicans Christina Arndt and Cherlyn Arrington. The last competitive seat is Melanie Scheible’s SD 9 which is likely to be the tipping point seat (the 11th seat won for either party) this year. Scheible has two Republican opponents, Tina Peetris and Christina Brown, neither of which even have websites. This is a double-digit Biden seat and as long as Scheible continues to campaign as she has, this should be a hold for Democrats.
The State Assembly could be more precarious for Democrats this year. They are heading into 2022 with a 26-16 majority The key indicator of what party is going to control the house is 4 seats in the southern portion of the Vegas Valley, all bordering each other which I have deemed “the tossup belt.” These 4 districts (21, 29, 35,41) are all seats Biden won by high-single digits and all incumbents are running for re-election. Democrats can afford to lose all four, but if they want to maintain full control of the chamber they can only lose one more seat. There are several more competitive Democratic seats: 8,9, and 12. Out of these three seats, the most likely to flip is District 12. The democratic vote in the district has primarily come from Hispanic voters and without an incumbent, a clear nominee, and a rightward trend, this race could easily slip away from Democrats. Biden, however, did still carry the district by double digits. In district 8, being vacated by Speaker Jason Frierson, Dems have recruited Clark County Planning Commissioner and non-profit executive Duy Nguyen. Republicans have three candidates vying for the nomination. District 9’s incumbent in Speaker pro-tempore Steve Yeager will face either small business owner John Gonzalez or Wahoo Fish Tacos Director of Marketing Ryan Fleming. Democrats are still favored to hold the chamber, but a few mistakes could easily cost them control especially in a perilous year for them like 2022.