Election takeaways: Washoe blues, rural-urban divide deepens

Washoe Dems
Washoe County, which includes Reno, was crucial to the Democrats' success Tuesday night. (Photo Courtesy: Washoe County Democratic Party.)

Nevada academics wasted no time jumping into an election post mortem. The Brookings Institute held a post-election panel discussion Wednesday where they analyzed the previous night’s “blue wave,” in which Democrats claimed victory in almost all statewide races. Panelists included Brookings Mountain West Executive Director Robert Lang, UNLV political science professor David Damore, Brookings fellow John Hudak and Women’s Research Institute of Nevada Director Rebecca Gill.

Here are four of their biggest takeaways:

Blue is the new purple.

The ideological and political differences between rural and urban voters is a tale as old as the country itself, but the Nevada chapter of this tome may be reaching a turning point with the blueing of Washoe County.

In swing states, Republicans typically need large margins in rural districts to counteract low numbers in urban strongholds. Democrats can get away with the exact opposite. Here in Nevada, that has meant Dems could win if they performed well in Clark, broke even in Washoe, and lost every rural county. (Case in point: Catherine Cortez Masto won Clark County — and only Clark County — during her 2014 senate run.)

Damore noted that Washoe County residents on Tuesday backed Democrats in greater margins than previous election years, despite Republicans having a greater voter registration advantage in the county.

“You’re seeing two urban parts of the state decisively going toward the Democratic party,” he said.

If Washoe becomes reliably blue — however light a shade — that’s worrisome for Republicans and enough to turn Nevada from a purple swing state to a blue one.

Added Hudak, “2020 may seal that.”

The Sandoval Model

Damore told the audience that after losses in 2012, Nevada Republicans performed a post mortem of their own and identified areas where they needed to improve, such as by appealing to more black and Latino voters.

“They had a plan: the Sandoval Model,” said Damore, referring to the popular moderate Republican governor. “Trump wiped that out.”

In this year’s gubernatorial race, Republicans ended up with a candidate — Attorney General Adam Laxalt — who not only couldn’t earn the outgoing governor’s endorsement but was openly criticized by him.

“Sandoval was harder on Laxalt than his competitor was,” said Hudak.

Damore sees decisive losses by Republicans on Tuesday as proof that aligning oneself with Trump or Trump-like rhetoric won’t work in Nevada. But pivoting back toward moderates like Sandoval in future races could.

Hudak pointed to New England states like Massachusetts that are considered blue but have happily voted in Republican governors. Nevada could follow suit, assuming the right party-crossing candidate is put forth.

“It might look like Nevada is a Democratic state but that doesn’t mean a Democratic governor.”

Of course, that strategy is dependent on the Nevada GOP’s willingness to swing away from Trump associates like Dean Heller, Adam Laxalt and Danny Tarkanian — all three of whom lost Tuesday night.

Turnout should be praised, but…

Sixty-two percent of registered voters turned out for this year’s midterm. Turnout was seen as key to winning, particularly by Democrats because the party is infamous for skipping midterm elections. As good news rolled in Tuesday night, Democrats chanted “we vote, we win” and praised their mobilization efforts.

The congratulations are warranted.

But.

“We’ll still be below the national average,” said Damore. “There’s still a lot of room for growth.”

Gill said the question now becomes whether turnout will stay at this level or dip. The question is especially pressing given the passing of Nevada’s automatic voter registration initiative, which passed Tuesday.

“Do we keep these new voters? Do they continue to vote? Do they realize it’s really not difficult?”

Yes, the dead guy won. He should have.

National and international media are having a field day over the fact Nevadans just elected a dead pimp to its state legislature. Republican Dennis Hof, a brothel owner who dubbed himself “the Trump of Pahrump,” did indeed defeat Democrat Lesia Romanov despite dying last month. He secured 63 percent of the vote. It wasn’t even close.

The jokes write themselves, but the undertone among many of them — that the predominantly rural district is dimwitted for voting for the dead guy — is misplaced.

“It is a strategy that does make sense,” said Gill, explaining that Hof became a proxy vote. The GOP actively encouraged it.

Because Hof cannot fulfill the role he was elected to, commissioners for the three counties his district lies in will have to appoint a replacement from his same district and political party. It is essentially the same process used whenever a living legislator vacates their seat. (For example, replacements will soon have to be appointed for Democratic state legislators Tick Segerblom and Aaron Ford, who were both elected to different offices Tuesday.)

Although who exactly will be appointed isn’t known yet, Republicans voters in the district assumed any Republican replacement would better reflect their values than the living Democratic candidate offered to them on the ballot. Their assumption will likely be correct. The district heavily leans Republican.

James Oscarson, the incumbent Republican Hof defeated in the primary, told The Nevada Independent that he plans on throwing his name into the ring. According to a press release from Clark County, the three counties involved will begin accepting applications within a week.

April Corbin
Reporter | April Corbin is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. Most recently she covered local government for Las Vegas Sun. She has also been a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of its student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April serves as treasurer of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter and is an at-large member of the Asian American Journalists Association. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise. She lives with her boyfriend, his toddler, three mutts and five chickens. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, exploring Nevada and defending selfies.

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