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March 18, 2019

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How Nevada’s elections could affect the nation

Rosen Heller

AP, Wade Vandervort / Photo illustration

Dean Heller and Jacky Rosen are running for U.S. Senate in Nevada.

As Nevada goes, so may go the nation, says UNLV associate history professor Michael Green.

The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 was only the second time in a century that the winner of the Electoral College didn’t receive Nevada’s electoral votes. Even then, Nevada’s choice carried the popular vote. Where Maine was once the bellwether for national elections, Green said, Nevada has taken its place in history.

“Nevada doesn’t quite fit the old adage, ‘as Maine goes so goes the nation,’ ” he says, “but as Nevada goes, it is possible to theorize the nation might be going with it.”

Carl​ Bunce, the chairman of the Clark County Republican Party; Sarah Abel, Nevada Democratic Party spokesperson; and Green weigh in on how Nevada’s November election may register nationally.

Nevada’s effect on Congress

Nevada has two House seats in play, with Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen looking to challenge Republican Sen. Dean Heller (Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen is not seeking re-election amid accusations he harassed a former campaign staffer).

Scenario in the House: To flip the House, Democrats would need to pick up more than 20 seats nationally, in addition to retaining the 193 seats they hold.

Scenario in the Senate: Democrats are defending more than twice as many seats in the Senate nationally as Republicans.

Projected outcome: A slew of Republicans are retiring from Congress, but some are in safe districts that Republicans are unlikely to lose.

“We have two House races that are up in the air, but I don’t think they’re as important nationally except for one thing: How many House seats will it take for Democrats to get control, if indeed they can?” Green says. “That’s what makes Rosen vs. Heller so significant. Most political experts see it as one of the few shots for the Democrats.”

Bunce said in an email that a Republican majority is important to check Democrats. Heller blamed Democrats for the Senate’s failure to confirm Trump’s judicial nominees.

“Nevada’s ​upcoming ​ elections are important to ​our​ nation​ in order​ to retain the makeup of the Congress in favor of President Trump’s policies and legislative agenda in the coming years​, especially in the Senate, where it is very close,” Bunce said.

Trump recently helped clear the primary field slightly for Heller by pushing Danny Tarkanian into the race for Congressional District 3, a competitive district represented by Rosen. Abel says the damage is already done for Heller. The senator had to run further to the right when he was competing against Tarkanian, she says, pointing to him falling in line with Trump on health care repeal after he and Gov. Brian Sandoval had voiced support for maintaining health care coverage for Nevada residents. Sandoval was the first Republican governor to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

“Tying yourself that closely to Trump and then vying for that endorsement from Trump in a state that Hillary won just doesn’t seem like a smart decision,” Abel says. “It’s obvious to most Democrats across the country that in order to take back the Senate, you have to go through Nevada.”

The role of the governor

Nevada’s governor has been an outspoken supporter of the state’s Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, which helped reduce the uninsured population by almost half, to about 11 percent.

The governor’s seat carries weight as a possible step to higher office, Green says, as was the case for Sandoval. It won’t be as prominent as, say, the New York race, where former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon is running.

“My guess is it would be more significant if Nevada bucked the trend, whatever the trend may be,” Green says. “If it’s a big Democratic year as a lot of people are suggesting, electing (a Republican) would buck the trend, and vice versa if it goes the other way.”

Bunce pointed to the governor’s role in the sanctuary city and immigration debates. The Trump administration is defending in court its attempt to block so-called sanctuary states from receiving certain federal grants, saying policies that reduce cooperation with federal immigration enforcement hurt public safety.

In Nevada, the Democrat-controlled Legislature floated a sanctuary state bill in 2017 that ended up failing. A ballot measure seeking to block sanctuary policies in the state was ruled deceptive and misleading, and is heading back to district court so the wording can be adjusted, according to the ACLU of Nevada.

Abel also pointed to the role the next governor could play when it comes to immigration, as well as renewable energy and health care. In 2017, Sandoval vetoed 41 bills, a number only topped by Gov. Jim Gibbons’ 48 in 2009.

“Protecting the expansion of Medicaid, that’s going to be important, to have a governor in the mansion that’s going to keep protecting that and fighting for that, and is also going to have that voice in Washington when they go there to advocate on behalf of the state,” Abel says.

Nevada’s choices could affect redistricting and future elections

Nevada may not pick up another congressional seat after the 2020 Census as it did in 2000 and 2010, Green says, but the officials who control the process will help set the lines for future elections.

“We have not seen gerrymandering here of the level — whether you’re talking about a high level or a low level — in other states such as Texas and Pennsylvania, where there have been (legal) challenges,” Green says.

Nevada’s Assembly bucks a national trend of new lines favoring Republicans. An Associated Press analysis shows the state’s lower chamber favors Democrats more than any other Legislature.

“If Democrats are allowed to control redistricting in the coming years, they will gerrymander districts to maintain and expand their control of the Nevada Legislature,” Bunce says. “If allowed, they will stifle growth in Nevada and turn us into Eastern California.”

In 2011, Sandoval vetoed two sets of maps before a court ended up stepping in to draw the legislative and congressional lines. Abel says that because of this, there was no gerrymandering the last time the state redistricted.

According to Green, the maps ultimately approved by the court were more favorable to Democrats than the two that Sandoval vetoed.

Abel says the state’s current maps might reflect a natural shift in the state toward the Democratic Party.

“What you are seeing is a trend of Nevada moving more and more toward being a blue state,” she says. “We’re not there yet, obviously, but I think Nevada’s turning into being more of a Democratic state.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.