In a stunning election, Nevada Republicans swept top state offices Tuesday and ousted U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., as they took control of the state Senate and the Assembly in a low-turnout election marked by greater GOP enthusiasm and Democratic disaffection.
GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose political machine and money fueled the GOP victories, enjoyed a landslide re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote against little-known Democrat Bob Goodman.
In his victory speech, the governor said that with Republicans controlling state government and the Legislature he could push his agenda to boost education and diversify the economy, adding jobs to a still-recovering economy.
“Thank you for your confidence and thank you for your trust,” Sandoval said to cheers at a GOP party at Summerlin’s Red Rock Resort. “This is a night to remember. This is a night to savor. We did this because we did this together. … But we also have to recognize tomorrow’s a new day. There’s a lot of work to do.”
“We have been given an opportunity to lead,” he added, saying Nevada was ready for a generational change, particularly with education reform. “Together we’re going to make history.”
The Nevada GOP did make history Tuesday in taking control of the Governor’s office, Senate and Assembly for the first time since before the Great Depression.
On Twitter, Sandoval said he would lead the state out of the recession and into an era of hope.
“Our state is on the right path and destined for a bright future,” Sandoval tweeted. “Looking forward to Continuing Nevada’s Comeback. … We will continue to build upon the progress of our great state together with a new Republican Majority in the NV State Senate.”
Sandoval also congratulated his pick for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, calling him a friend. Hutchison overwhelmingly defeated Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, earning at least 60 percent of the vote compared with 34 percent for her, non-final returns showed.
In his speech, Hutchison said he was standing on the shoulders of giants: Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., who easily won re-election over his Democratic opponent, Erin Bilbray.
“I thank all of those whose shoulders I’ve stood upon,” Hutchison said, his speech punctuated by a booming holler heard over the applause. “We love you too, Mark!”
The mood was somber at for Democrats who gathered at MGM International Resorts.
Bilbray, in her concession speech, acknowledged the overwhelming GOP wave.
“Well, I picked of a heck of a year to run, didn’t I?” Bilbray said, congratulating Heck.
WHAT COMES NEXT
The election demonstrated Nevada voters’ dissatisfaction with Democratic leadership on both the national and state levels as Republicans also took control of the U.S. Senate, putting U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the minority.
For the fist time in more than a decade, Nevada Republicans also beat Reid’s Democratic machine, with the GOP smashing Democrats during early voting and again on Election Day. Reid was more focused on trying to save the U.S. Senate, said Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Although Republicans won the day — thanks in part to Sandoval and his PAC, which helped pay for the effort to win the state Senate and his support of Hutchison — it remains to be seen whether some of the new GOP lawmakers and leaders will go along with his agenda, Herzik said. He compared the situation to 2002, when the GOP last swept state offices and controlled the Nevada Senate under moderate GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn.
During the 2003 legislative session, Republicans in the Assembly blocked Guinn’s effort at reforming the state’s tax structure, which Sandoval said is one of his top goals. The case went to the state Supreme Court and resulted in a compromise that imposed a package of taxes that were supposed to sunset but have been twice extended by Sandoval.
“You’ll have a number of conservative Republicans coming into the Legislature and chairing committees,” Herzik said. “Sandoval made this happen, but the people who have benefited have not been supportive of his agenda, especially on taxes. They (Republicans) accomplished Stage 1 by gaining control. Now, will they be able to govern?”
Several top races offered razor-thin margins.
In the hard-fought attorney general’s race. Republican Adam Laxalt narrowly defeated Ross Miller, the Democratic secretary of state, by 46 percent to 45 percent, extending his lead as rural votes came in. Miller conceded early this morning.
The secretary of state’s race also was close, though state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, had a comfortable lead over Democrat Kate Marshal and was expected to win.
Republicans also won the other two top state constitutional contests, for treasurer and controller.
In the congressional races, Republican Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, beat freshman congressman Horsford by a narrow margin, running strong in Clark County and extending his lead as rural votes were counted in the sprawling 4th Congressional District, which includes northern Clark County and all or part of six rural counties.
Horsford, in what sounded like a concession speech to supporters late in the evening, said he called Hardy to wish him well and even managed a shout-out to Bunkerville’s renegade rancher, Cliven Bundy, while describing his Alabama-size district.
Once considered a long shot, Hardy had help in recent few weeks from an outside group, Crossroads GPS, that ran nearly $1 million in negative ads suggesting Horsford is unethical and too close to President Barack Obama. National Democrats responded by cutting an attack ad against Hardy.
For the Nevada Legislature, the GOP retook control of the Senate, now run by Democrats with a 11-10 seat edge. It came down to the Senate District 9 race with Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, losing to Republican challenger Becky Harris, 44 percent to 56 percent with half the votes counted.
In the 42-member Assembly, Republicans also were poised to take over, well on their way to gaining more than the seven seats needed to take control of the lower house. Democrats had a 27-15 majority.
In the Clark County’s sheriff’s race, Joe Lombardo, an assistant sheriff, was leading Larry Burns, a retired Metro captain.
Three Clark County incumbent Democratic commissioners — Susan Brager, Chris Giunchigliani and Mary Beth Scow — eked out victories for re-election, although the GOP contenders were close behind Brager and Scow in partial returns.
MARGIN TAX DRUBBED
Nevada voters also were deciding three ballot issues with the most controversial overwhelmingly defeated. Returns showed Question 3 losing 79 percent to 21 percent. If approved, it would have imposed a 2 percent margin tax on businesses with total annual revenue exceeding $1 million, with proceeds said to fund public schools.
Question 2 appeared too close to call with votes yet to be counted well into the early hours. It would remove a constitutional cap on mining taxes, allowing the Legislature or voters to change the industry’s tax rate in the future.
Question 1 was on its way to approval, a reversal of fortunes for a measure rejected by voters in the past. It would create an appellate court system with the Nevada Supreme Court establishing what issues would be heard by a three-judge appeals court.
Heading into Tuesday, the GOP was confident it could dominate Democrats statewide, thanks to heavier GOP voting in rural Nevada and Washoe County, although some Democrats were looking to survive by winning crossover and independent votes.
During the two-week early voting period that ended Friday, Republicans trounced Democrats statewide with GOP voters casting nearly 24,000 more ballots than Democrats for a 45 percent to 37 percent advantage.
Voter turnout statewide was 42 percent.
That compares with the most recent midterm election in 2010, when voter turnout was 64.64 percent with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election drawing high interest.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj. Review-Journal reporters Kimber Laux, Ricardo Torres, Bethany Barnes and Jame DeHaven contributed this story.