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December 16, 2018

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Four reasons Cresent Hardy upset Rep. Steven Horsford

Nevada Republicans Election Night Watch Party

L.E. Baskow

Congressman-elect Cresent Hardy thanks supporters as Republicans gather to celebrate election victories, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, at Red Rock Resort.

Nevada Republicans Election Night Watch Party

Sen. Mark Hutchison is pumped up as Nevada Republicans gathered to help celebrate his win as Lt. Governor at the New Nevada Lounge in the Red Rock Casino on Tuesday, November 4, 2014. Launch slideshow »

There isn't any one thing Democrats can point to that led to Rep. Steven Horsford's surprise loss on Tuesday.

Instead, a confluence of Goldilocks-style just-right events helped little-known Republican Assemblyman Cresent Hardy upset Democratic incumbent Horsford in the race to represent the 4th Congressional District.

"It would just take the right candidate with the right campaign and an environment that's conducive to it," said Nevada Republican strategist Ryan Erwin.

Here are four reasons Nevada's newest congressional district, which encompasses North Las Vegas and central Nevada, switched from blue to red.

1. The mood in Nevada and the nation powered people to the polls

One of the most important factors in Hardy's win was the "R" next to his name on the ballot.

Hardy was buoyed by Republican voters across the country exasperated with the status quo of President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats.

As a result, Republicans crushed Democrats up and down the ballot in Nevada and across the nation. Victors include State Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, who said he'd vote for slavery if his constituents wanted him to.

The results might have been different in a year not as favorable to Republicans. In an Election Day sweep where few Democrats came close to their Republican opponents, Horsford lost by less than 3 percentage points.

2. Democrats didn't vote

Compounding the problem for Horsford's team was that Republican voters, and not many others, showed up to the polls in Nevada.

Voter turnout in the district was down 50 percent from the district's first election two years ago. Midterm elections generally have lower turnout because there's no exciting presidential race, but these numbers surprised even longtime political watchers.

Hosrford won Democratic Clark County by a slim 1,900 vote margin, a steep drop from 2012 when he won the county by 29,000 votes.

Horsford probably would have kept his seat if more people in the district were motivated enough to cast ballots. On paper, the district favors Democrats. Of the 303,000 total voters in the 4th Congressional District, about 130,000 are registered Democrats, about 97,000 are Republicans and about 70,000 are Independents or nonpartisans, according to the Nevada Secretary of State.

3. A winning Republican strategy

Democrats' voter registration advantage may not last for long, either. Republican operatives in the state worked quietly for two years to register as many Republicans and nonpartisans as they could.

Programs like Engage Nevada, run by Chris Carr, Mitt Romney's 2012 state manager in Nevada, worked tirelessly to remind Nevadans to vote. They didn't discriminate who they registered, and Engage Nevada never advocated for a specific candidate. But they did try to target Republican-leaning voters with door hangers and registration events.

Hardy himself recognized the power of cowboy boots on the ground. He and his campaign staff knocked on 25,000 doors in the district, ignoring media and pundits claiming they had no chance.

They got a glimpse of how their efforts might pay off during the primary, where Hardy got a higher percentage of the vote in precincts he walked versus ones he didn't.

Another winning strategy came from Washington, D.C., in the final two weeks of the campaign. Crossroads GPS, a Super PAC tied to Republican strategist Karl Rove, threw $1 million into the race after sensing Republican momentum build during early voting in the district.

4. A weak Democratic strategy

On paper, Hardy was still out-funded and out-staffed by the Horsford team. Horsford, a rising star in Washington Democratic circles, had more than $1 million in the bank and Hardy was in debt $30,000.

Horsford also ran a decent campaign. He spent time in the rural parts of the district and put money behind a unique TV and digital strategy promoting his work in two years of Congress. He didn't put his feet up and relax even after Hardy made gaffes that earned him national attention.

But Horsford didn't really give his base in North Las Vegas any reason to go vote, Democrats said.

It's the same story for Democrats across the country. The party failed to show voters they were on their side, said Nevada Democratic insider Billy Vassiliadis. Instead, Democrats spent much of their time blaming Republicans for the failure of popular policies like raising the national minimum wage.

"Voters don't want to hear that it can't be passed and then have some explanation of process," Vassiliadis said. "They want to see Democrats fighting for those ideas that are important for working men and women in this country."

Combine that with a winning Republican strategy and motivated Republican voters, and you have an upset in Nevada's 4th congressional district.

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