A “blue wave” swept through the 2018 midterm election allowing Democrats to pick up enough seats in the Nevada Assembly to claim a veto-proof supermajority and knock Republicans into a superminority.
Pointing to races either won by slim margins or in districts with competitive voter registration, Republicans are hoping to erode the Democratic majority in November, while Democrats say they will maintain their advantage.
“We know we are in a good position when it comes to Assembly races and protecting some of those competitive districts,” said Molly Forgey, the communications director with the Nevada State Democratic Party. “I think the incumbents in those seats have a proven record. The 2019 session was the first time we had a trifecta in Carson City and we got an incredible amount of work done on behalf of the Nevadans as far as health care, education and the economy. I think that’s what’s going to be a deciding factor for undecided voters.”
The 2020 election will determine if Democrats retain control of 29 of the 42 seats. A 28 seat majority ensures a party is able to override a gubernatorial veto – a perhaps unlikely scenario in the 2021 Legislative session when Democrat Steve Sisolak will be the governor.
The state constitution also requires approval from a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers for any tax increase. While Democrats currently enjoy that majority in the Assembly, they are one vote shy of it in the state Senate.
Republicans currently hold 13 Assembly seats.
This year, four seats are viewed as competitive.
District 4 in Clark County is a perennial swing district. Incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk is facing off against former Republican Assemblyman Richard McArthur, who has won the seat three times before, 2008, 2012 and 2016, only to lose it in subsequent election.
Munk beat McArthur by just 120 votes in 2018.
“(McArthur) was rejected in 2018 and I think a lot of the same issues on the ballot in 2018 are on the ballot in 2020,” Forgey said. “It makes it very easy for voters to understand this is essentially the same race they saw in 2018 and they chose Connie.”
But Republicans are confident the seat is in play.
“Last time there was an Independent American Party candidate in the race that got 600 votes,” said Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus. “Without an IAP candidate in the race, you can look at it and easily think this is a race that Republicans can pick up.”
In Washoe County, incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly is challenged by former Republican Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, who held the seat in 2014.
“This has been a thorn in Republicans’ side ever since 2012 when it was redistricted,” Roberts acknowledged. “It’s been a 3, 4 or 5 percent voter registration edge for Republicans, but Skip Daly has held the seat the entire time outside the 2014 red wave.”
Dickman beat Daly by 1,890 votes during the 2014 election. But then Daly ousted Dickman in 2016 and defeated her again by 1,105 votes in 2018.
Roberts said some of those votes came down to nonpartisan swing voters, leaving the district as a possibility for Dickman, and Republicans, to win.
“I think putting up the same candidate who lost a few times in the past, I think a lot of this is more of the same,” Forgey said. “We know who we are voting for because they’ve already run before or held that seat in the past. It provides voters with a very clear understanding of who exactly they are voting for.”
Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus beat Republican Jim Marchant in Clark County’s District 37 by 135 votes in 2018. Marchant, who had won the Assembly seat in 2016, is running against Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District.
And Backus now faces former congressional candidate Andy Matthews.
Democrats have a slight registration advantage in the district. “That’s going against us a little bit in any race where every vote counts,” Roberts said.
But Roberts thinks Matthews’ close ties to former Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to Gov. Steve Sisolak, could help give an edge in the district. Matthews worked on Laxalt’s gubernatorial race, and is now the executive director of Laxalt’s Morning in Nevada Political Action Committee.
“You saw a very close election last time and we have every reason to believe that one will be pretty close this time,” Roberts said.
Incumbent Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen, who was appointed to District 29 in Clark County in 2012, lost to Republican Assemblyman Stephen Silberkraus in the 2014 midterm elections, a year when Republicans swept every statewide office and won control of both houses of the Legislature.
She won back the seat in 2016 and 2018, defeating Silberkraus both times..
This year Republicans are running political newcomer and dentist Steven DeLisle.
“Trump won the district in 2016,” Roberts said. “It was one of the few districts statewide that didn’t go the same way the presidential election went. That’s the reason we’re pointing to that one.”
Health care, the pandemic economy
So what are the races going to come down to and what’s going to inspire turnout?
Forgey said between the health pandemic caused by Covid-19 and another lawsuit on the Affordable Care Act heading to the United States Supreme Court, health care will be a top issue.
In 2019, Democratic lawmakers passed a bill that codified the Affordable Care Act’s protections for pre-existing conditions into state law, which Forgey believes will entice voters.
“That right there is a huge example of the priorities our candidates and incumbents have,” she said. “I think it’s a really good piece of evidence to show where candidates lie on an issue important to Nevadans.”
Republicans feel their chances will be helped if voters tie the state’s ongoing economic problems to decisions by Sisolak, and by extension, to the Democrats.
“I think this year with Covid and the fact the economy was shut down and so many people were out of work or lost their jobs or businesses close, you see more of a focus right now” than in recent election cycles, Roberts said.
While Covid has presented challenges to campaigns across the country, Forgey said the state party has looked at creative ways to campaign and “do whatever we can to reach voters safely.”
“We don’t have any concerns when it comes to turnout and we’re seeing an incredible amount of energy among our base among Nevadans in general,” Forgey said. “This was already a very consequential election. With this opening on the Supreme Court, we’re seeing folks energized more than ever because they see exactly what’s on the line and they see the state of something as crucial as health care.”
Nearly a third of seats uncontested
Nine of the Assembly races on the Nevada ballot in 2020 are open seats, the result of legislators either being term-limited out or seeking other elected offices.
In District 2 in Clark County, Republican Heidi Kasama and Democrat Radhika Kunnel are vying to replace term-limited Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick.
Roberts said the district has boasted higher Republican registration and turn-out in the past, and foresees hanging on to the seat.
In Clark County’s District 18, Democrat Venicia Considine is running against Republican Heather Ann Florian to replace Democratic Assemblyman Richard Carillo, whose term ends in November.
Republican Cherlyn Arrington and Democrat Elaine Marzola are competing in District 21 to replace Clark County Democratic Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, who is seeking a seat on the Nevada Supreme Court, while Democrat Cecelia González is running against Republican Alex Sajdak in District 16 in Clark County to replace Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, who decided not to run again.
Looking to replace Democratic Assemblyman William McCurdy, who is running for County Commission, Republican Katie Duncan and Democrat Shondra Summers-Armstrong are competing in District 6 while Democrat Cameron Miller and Republican Tony Palmer are squaring off in District 7, which is currently held by Democratic Assemblywoman Dina Neal, who is running for state Senate.
District 40 in Carson City will have Democrat Sena Loyd face off against Philip O’Neill, who beat incumbent Al Kramer in the primary.
In Washoe County, Democrat Natha Anderson is running against Republican Randy Hoff in District 30, which was previously held by Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle, who resigned in 2019 amid sexual harassment allegations.
Democratic Claire Thomas and Republican Jack Polcyn are running in District 17, which was held by Democratic Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, who died in 2019.
Three Democratic Assembly incumbents, Danielle Monroe-Moreno, Sarah Peters and Selena Torres, along with Democratic candidate David Orentlicher, are running unopposed.
Six Republican incumbents, Robin Titus, Tom Roberts, Melissa Hardy, John Ellison, Gregory Hafen and Jill Tolles, as well first-time candidate Annie Black, who defeated incumbent Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards in the primary, are also unopposed.