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With primary over, battle for control of Legislature heats up


CARSON CITY — Now that the Republican primary legislative skirmishes are history, it’s time for the real battle as GOP state lawmakers attempt to hold their majorities in the Senate and Assembly, and Democrats work to regain control of the Nevada Legislature in 2017.

Democrats learned the hard way during the 2015 legislative session what poor voter turnout meant for the party. They spent the session playing defense on issues such as voter ID, which ultimately failed, and construction defect legislation, which passed.

For their part, Republicans pushed through a number of measures they had wanted for years, including a controversial school choice law now being challenged in the courts.

The outcome will boil down to voter turnout in November, driven primarily by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the presumptive party nominees.

Perhaps the most significant legislative contest will pit anti-tax GOP Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman against Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro in the open Senate District 6 seat in Las Vegas.

Seaman won a bruising primary Tuesday against former GOP Assemblyman Erv Nelson, who supported Gov. Brian Sandoval’s $1.5 billion tax package.

The seat will be the crucial race for Republicans and Democrats to control the Senate. The 21-member Senate now has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The Senate 6 seat has been held by a Republican, and a Democratic victory in the November general election would likely tip the house in the Democrats’ favor by a one-vote margin.

As of the close of registration for the primary, the district had 27,424 Democrats, 23,580 Republicans and 12,178 nonpartisan voters.

Cannizzaro’s credentials as a Democratic Senate candidate include being a lifelong Nevadan and working as a Clark County deputy district attorney.

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, who lost his bid for the GOP nomination in the 3rd Congressional race, said he now will work to retain party control of the house in November. Roberson will return to the Legislature in 2017 because he is in the middle of a four-year term, but it remains to be seen if he will be the majority leader or the minority leader.

Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said in comments Wednesday that the primary has set the table for Democrats to take control of the state Senate.

“While Republicans have nominated extremist candidates who are more interested in pursuing right-wing politics than in growing our middle class, Democrats will be talking about the issues that matter to Nevadans,” he said.

Cannizzaro has done a great job of getting her name out there, knocking on doors and talking with constituents, Ford said.

“She’s going to be our No. 11 — our key to the majority,” he said.

Ford said while he’s confident his party is ahead, they’re going to be running as if they’re 20 points down.

“Sen. (Richard) Bryan used to say there are only two ways to run — unopposed or scared — so we’re running scared,” he

said.

In the Assembly, where Republicans have a 25-17 edge as a result of the GOP sweep in 2014, many political observers believe Democrats will regain control in November. The 2015 session was the first time Republicans controlled the Assembly outright since 1985.

GOP Assembly leaders have essentially conceded three seats they hold now, meaning Democrats must only gain two more seats to take a 22-20 majority. Several seats now held by Republicans have Democratic voter registration edges.

In comments to the media in Las Vegas, Assembly Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Irene Bustamante Adams said her members are “hungry to take back the majority.”

“The rift in the Republican Party is apparent up and down the ticket, and the GOP looks more divided than ever after tonight’s primary election,” she said.

“Next session will be very important for Nevada families, and they have a clear choice between leaders who will expand opportunities for every Nevadans, and leaders who will be obsessed with Donald Trump values,” Bustamante Adams said. “Democrats are ready to outwork and out-communicate Republicans to convince Nevadans that Democrats are in their corner.”

Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson, who won outright in his Tuesday primary, helped a number of his colleagues win re-election against anti-tax GOP challengers. Anderson believes his more moderate colleagues stand a better chance of winning in November than the primary challengers, most of whom failed to advance Tuesday.

“It will be an uphill battle,” he acknowledged Wednesday. “We are going to be an underdog. But I think we will prove to be very worthy opponents to anyone we stand up against.”

With the tax debate now over, Anderson said he and GOP colleagues will focus on the accomplishments of the 2015 session, from economic development to the new medical school at UNLV to the many reforms to public education.

“There were decades of accomplishments that we squeezed into that 2015 session that as a caucus we can run on,” he said. “I think we’ve got one of the best chances to hang in there.”

Anderson said that while his group backed losing incumbents P.K. O’Neill in Carson City and Glenn Trowbridge in Las Vegas, he can work with the GOP winners, Al Kramer in Carson City and Jim Marchant in Las Vegas.

But Anderson said some of the personal attacks leveled at him and colleagues by Assemblyman Brent Jones of Las Vegas, who won his GOP primary, and Ira Hansen of Sparks, who will win re-election without any opponent, will not be easily forgotten.

Natalie Bruzda contributed to this report.

Contact Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.