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Red Tsunami Hits Nevada

Republicans won historic victories in Nevada last week, achieving a level of power in state government they have not enjoyed in at least 85 years. A lack of enthusiasm on the part of Democrats helped turn many blue districts, and state offices, red in the midterm elections.

The GOP took over the Nevada State Senate for the first time in six years and won the majority in the State Assembly for the first time since 1985. Combined with Gov. Brian Sandoval’s landslide victory, Republicans control the governorship and both houses of the Legislature for the first time since 1929.

Republicans flipped ten seats in the State Assembly, turning a 27-15 disadvantage into a 25-17 majority. The GOP defeated an incumbent Democratic state senator, while holding all of its own seats, to take an 11-10 majority in that body.

In addition to the wins in the Legislature, Republicans won all six constitutional offices (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller). Sandoval was the only incumbent in these offices eligible to run for re-election. Term-limited Democrats had held four of these offices, all but governor and lieutenant governor, and three of the Democrats running were current constitutional officeholders running for another office.

Lower turnout, especially among Democrats and driven by a variety of factors, played a large role in the upset victories. While Republican turnout during the two-week early voting period was half of that in 2012, turnout among Democrats was about one-third its 2012 level, making some seemingly safe Democratic incumbents vulnerable. Final turnout data for election day won’t be available until next week.

The vaunted Reid Machine, which has succeeded in pushing strong turnout for Democrats in prior elections even under tough circumstances, was on the road attempting to, unsuccessfully, salvage Reid’s majority in the United States Senate.

Map of Nevada State Assembly districts in Clark County that changed parties during the 2014 election. Modified from image on Nevada Secretary of State website.

Map of Nevada State Assembly districts in Clark County that changed parties during the 2014 election. (Modified from image on Nevada Secretary of State’s website.)

Democrats also lacked a strong candidate at the top of the ticket to energize their voters. Sandoval defeated his outmatched opponent 71 percent to 24 percent. His challenger, Bob Goodman, had actually received fewer votes than “None of these candidates” during the June Democratic primary and raised less than $8,000 during the campaign while Sandoval had a seven-figure war chest.

Despite holding a 150,000-voter advantage in registration in Clark County, which contains almost 70 percent of the state’s registered voters, Democratic turnout during early voting exceeded that of Republicans by just 81 voters. Including the mailed ballots returned during that time completely wiped out the Democrats’ advantage.

Statewide, the figures were no better for Democrats. With 107,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, 24,000 more Republicans than Democrats cast early and mailed ballots.

No race better illustrates the impact of turnout in Clark County better than that of Congressional District 4, which includes northern Clark County, a portion of rural Lyon County and all of five other rural counties – Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral, Nye and White Pine. Despite its geographical reach, Clark County contains about 85 percent of the registered voters in CD4 and Democrats hold a 40,000-voter (13-percentage point) registration advantage in Clark.

In 2012, Democrat Steven Horsford won the seat by approximately 19,000 votes. Horsford lost the rural counties in the district to his Republican opponent, Danny Tarkanian*, by nearly 10,000 votes but won Clark County by more than 29,000 votes.

In 2014, Horsford actually performed better in the rural counties than he had in 2012, coming within 5,600 votes of Republican challenger Cresent Hardy and gaining 4.7 percentage points from his earlier race. However, turnout in CD4 in Clark County was just over half of what it was in 2012. Horsford received nearly 60,000 fewer votes in Clark than he had two years earlier and won the county by less than 2,000 votes, not nearly enough to overcome Hardy’s strength in the rurals.

Republicans filed successful challenges to the candidacies of two Democratic State Assembly candidates. Judges ruled that both Meghan Smith in Assembly District 34 and Jesse “Jake” Holder in AD10 were ineligible for their offices because neither had established residency in their districts by the required 30 days before the end of the filing period.

State law prohibited removing their names from the ballots but the judges required the Clark County Election Department to post signs at polling places indicating the two were ineligible. Both of these Democratic candidates lost their races for open seats in districts in which Democrats hold significant registration advantages.

In 2012, Republicans successfully challenged the eligibility of Democrat Andrew Martin in AD9 in court. However, after receiving the most votes in his district, Martin was nevertheless seated by the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

In addition to the races for state and local offices, voters in Nevada had their say on three state-wide ballot initiatives.

The electorate approved a new Appellate Court with Question 1 but, once again, Nevadans expressed their opposition to new taxes.

Voters narrowly rejected Question 2, which would have removed the mining industry’s constitutional exemptions from most taxes. Proponents had hoped to raise more tax revenue from the industry through passage of Question 2.

Question 3, termed the “Margin Tax” by its opponents and “The Education Initiative” by its supporters was expected to be a close call by many observers. But, when even some of the groups who had helped gather signatures for the ballot initiative began expressing opposition, it lost momentum. Virtually all of the money raised for the fight for Question 3 came from teachers unions. Question 3 suffered a resounding defeat, with the 79-21 margin surpassing even that of Governor Sandoval.

* The author was a staffer on Tarkanian’s 2012 campaign.

[Header image from CH Media LLC]

Michael Chamberlain

Michael Chamberlain is the Editor of Watchdog Wire - Nevada. Please contact him at Nevada@watchdogwire.com for story ideas or to get involved in citizen journalism in Nevada. Follow Michael on Twitter: @michaelpchamber

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