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August 18, 2022

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Democrats poised for greater influence in Nevada

Registration advantage reflected in new district lines

Joe Heck Veterans Town Hall

Justin M. Bowen

Rep. Joe Heck speaks to Veterans at the American Legion Post 40 in Henderson on Wednesday, June 8, 2011.

The chessboard that Democrats and Republicans will play on to decide the balance of power in Nevada is set.

The new legislative and congressional boundaries that emerged from a Carson City courtroom last week will likely be the biggest factors in determining which party controls the state Assembly and Senate and who sends more representatives to Washington, D.C.

Nevada Democrats, who have spent the past five years building their party, are gleeful about their chances on each level. Republicans say, tellingly, that it could’ve been worse.

Of course, other dynamics are at play in each election.

Next year, for example, Republicans see the dour economy as a wind at their backs as they work to unseat Democratic incumbents. Democrats look at the dysfunctional Republican field of presidential candidates and hope a flawed candidate will sully other candidates down ticket.

But the newly drawn districts create decadelong contours — redistricting follows each decennial Census — that, in some cases, will overpower these election-cycle dynamics.

As analysts from both parties set about looking at the final lines, most agree Democrats are poised to keep a strong majority in the Assembly, have a chance of controlling the state Senate and are positioned to win three of the state’s four congressional districts as the decade progresses.

Here’s how:

Congressional districts

The Republican Party lost any leverage that might give it an edge in the state’s congressional districts when the court ruled against its argument that federal law required the creation of a majority Hispanic district.

As a result, Democrats have a much stronger shot at winning three of Nevada’s four congressional seats.

On the face of it, Democrats have two districts with an almost insurmountable voter registration edge. Republicans have one district they can call their own.

The parties will likely spend the next 10 years fighting over who gets Nevada’s lone swing district — the seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Heck.

• The 1st Congressional District — bounded roughly by Russell Road on the south, Hollywood Boulevard to the east, Lake Mead Boulevard to the north and Durango Road on the West — has a 27-point voter registration edge for Democrats.

• The new 4th Congressional District — which includes North Las Vegas, Nellis Air Force Base and stretches north through six rural counties — has a 13-point edge for Democrats.

Although voter registration edge gives the district to Democrats, the GOP sees an opportunity to drive turnout, narrowing that registration lead and perhaps putting a Republican in the seat. Urban Democrats typically turnout in a much smaller percentage than do rural Republicans, the thinking goes. But a 13-point advantage is difficult to beat.

• Republicans kept their 8-point edge in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Washoe County and the northern rural counties.

• Perhaps the only bright spot for Republicans: the Democratic lead in the 3rd Congressional District — which includes the entire southern half of Clark County — shrunk to just 3 points from 7, making it a much more evenly split district.

Because Heck is an incumbent in CD3, Republicans likely have the advantage when it comes to keeping the seat next year.

But in the long term, Democrats see an opportunity for snagging the swing district. Many reliably Republican precincts in the district — Mesquite and other northwestern areas of the Las Vegas Valley — are now divided between the 1st and 4th districts.

Nevada Senate

The state Senate has been a Republican bastion for most of the past two decades, until Democrats took control in 2008. The boundaries favor Democrats holding onto it, but Republicans have a shot at unseating one vulnerable Democrat in 2012 to take it back.

“These maps are a whole lot fairer, a whole lot better, than maps drawn by the Legislature,” said Mike Slanker, a Republican political consultant who worked closely with the caucuses on redistricting. “The competitive seats are there. The better candidates, the better campaigns, will win.”

Democrats say they can keep the majority next year and gain 14 seats by the 2015 Legislature — the two-thirds majority needed to pass a tax increase and override a governor’s veto.

Democrats, who hold an 11-10 advantage, have seven seats to defend next year, compared with four being defended by Republicans.

The most competitive seats are District 5, held by Sen. Shirley Breeden, D-Henderson, and District 6, held by Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas.

Both seats lean Democratic, with registration advantages of 6 and 7 percentage points respectively.

The other two competitive seats are:

• District 18, a new seat in northwest Las Vegas that has an even voter registration advantage.

• District 15, a Washoe County seat held by Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, that is evenly split.

The Senate seats are four-year terms.

If Democrats can retain those seats and take Brower’s seat or the empty seat, it will give them a 12-9 advantage. In 2014, Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, whose District 9 seat has 7 percent more Democrats, is seen as vulnerable to a challenge.

Democrats would also have to win one of the other competitive seats next year or a toss-up Senate district in 2014, such as District 8 (currently held by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas) or District 20 (currently held by Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.)

Nevada Assembly

For almost 30 years, this has largely been the Democrats’ source of power in the Legislature.

It’s almost guaranteed to stay that way.

Democrats controlled 26 of the Assembly’s 42 seats in 2011, two short of a two-thirds majority. There’s a path to Democrats taking a two-third majority, but certainly not an easy one, according to party insiders.

Republicans, on the other hand, see little possibility of taking control of the Assembly beyond the biggest conservative wave imaginable.

A number of Assembly seats will be competitive in 2012. Eight are within 6 percentage points in registration.

“It’s hard to imagine not making gains in the Assembly,” said Ryan Erwin, a Republican consultant who consults for the Assembly GOP caucus.

Some incumbent Democrats have had their seats flipped to a Republican advantage — Skip Daly of Reno’s district now has 4 percentage points more Republicans.

Democrat Steven Brooks of Las Vegas is now in the same district as Mesquite Republican Cresent Hardy, in an even district.

And Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin, who’s in the running to be speaker, now represents a district with split registration.

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