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Host of candidates could make mess of Nevada Assembly primaries

Updated March 30, 2018 - 10:08 pm

With half the chamber in play, the state Assembly elections could cause headaches for both parties.

The beginning comes with the June 12 primary election, when 27 Assembly races will be on the ballot.

Democrats, who control the state’s lower house with 27 seats, need to hold those and win one more to have a supermajority in the chamber.

“It looks like the momentum’s on the Democratic side,” said David Damore, a UNLV political science professor. “The Republicans have to play defense and protect the seats they have, as opposed to trying to expand the board.”

Republicans hope to fend off what happened in 2016, when a “big blue wave” left the GOP with 15 seats, by snapping up a few battleground districts, said Assembly Republican Caucus executive director Eric Roberts.

“I’m confident we will pick up seats this cycle,” Roberts said. “I also saw firsthand in the 2017 legislative session how important it was to have a Republican in the governor’s office. If there is a Democrat governor and we don’t have the majority in the Assembly or Senate, this next session will be a disaster for Republicans.”

Roberts said winning seven seats to take back the chamber, which Republicans held in 2015, is “statistically unlikely” given voter registration numbers. The GOP instead is focusing on a handful of hotly contested races.

Among them:

■ Assembly District 31: Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly faces no primary opponent from his party, but Republicans are eyeing this seat in November — and Daly could be at risk.

Republicans have a 6.4 percent voter registration edge in this Washoe County district, yet Daly won the seat in 2016 by a hair, beating former GOP Assemblywoman Jill Dickman by 38 votes. Now Dickman is challenging Daly in hopes of winning back her old seat.

This is the only Assembly seat held by Democrats in a district with more registered Republican voters.

“I think if Democrats were being honest, they would tell you in a non-blue wave year they will not be holding this seat,” Roberts said.

■ Assembly District 29: The Henderson seat, held by Democrat Lesley Cohen, is another battleground district. Cohen faces a primary challenge in June from fellow Democrat Terry Watson. If she wins, Cohen will face off in November with former GOP Assemblyman Steve Silberkraus, who lost the seat two years ago by 212 votes. There are 1,343 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the district.

In November, Cohen and Silberkraus will battle Libertarian Bruce James-Newman. More than 9,000 voters in AD 29 are registered as either nonpartisan or Libertarian.

■ Assembly districts 4 and 37: Both Las Vegas seats are held by GOP legislators — Richard McArthur and Jim Marchant, respectively — but Democrats are coming, after the Assembly Democratic caucus recently endorsed Connie Munk in AD 4. Shea Backus, Rick Cornstuble and Robbie Pearce will square off in the Democratic primary for the right to challenge Marchant in AD 37.

In AD 4, McArthur faces a GOP primary challenge from Luis Vegas. The winner will then likely face off with Munk, the Democratic front-runner. The Assembly Democrats won’t endorse in the AD 37 primary.

Republicans have the voter registration edge in all 15 seats they occupy, but their lead in AD 4 and AD 37 is extremely slim, making these two seats the ones they’ll fight hardest to keep.

Dem strategy

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said Democrats are focused on holding their 27 seats and picking off a few more.

“If we retain all 27 and pick up two more seats, we just want to have an Assembly that’s functional and able to go to work to represent the state,” Frierson said. “We’re hopeful we’ll be successful in expanding the majority.”

Frierson said Democrats are especially focused on single-digit races, where the Democratic voter registration edge is under 10 percent. Some examples are Assembly District 5, represented by Democrat Brittney Miller; District 9, represented by Democrat Steve Yeager; and District 41, represented by Democrat Sandra Jauregui.

Other races the Democrats are targeting:

■ Assembly District 35: The departure of Justin Watkins makes this Las Vegas seat a top priority for the party. They’ve lined up Michelle Gorelow, a nonprofit executive, to replace him, but she’ll face off with Democratic primary opponent Paul Numsuwan.

The primary winner faces opposition from GOP contenders David Schoen and Aimee Jones, who’s married to Brent Jones, the district’s former assemblyman. He’s running for lieutenant governor.

■ Assembly District 15: Democrat Elliot Anderson is not seeking re-election, leaving another open seat that Democrats must fight to keep.

The race will be crowded with five Democrats into the June primary election, though the Assembly Democratic Caucus has endorsed political activist Howard Watts.

The Democratic winner will battle it out against Republican Stan Vaughan in November for this Winchester-area seat.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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