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2024 Election: Where Nevada’s federal races are at, what the biggest issues will be

Updated June 16, 2024 - 12:00 pm

With the June 11 primary over, all eyes are looking to Nevada as more than just a swing state in the presidential election. Its congressional races could play a major role in determining the balance of power in the U.S. Congress — particularly in what is expected to be a competitive Senate race.

In 2022, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto narrowly won re-election by just 0.9 percentage points as the nation watched to see if it would shake up the party control of Congress. The stakes are just as high in this year’s race between Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen and Republican Army veteran Sam Brown — and just as competitive.

Both campaigns have already begun their attacks on each other, each with different points they will hammer home until November. Those attacks will only intensify in the months leading to the general election.

UNLV political science professor David Damore thinks the next couple of months will be crucial in the election as the candidates fundraise and refine their pitches on what they see are the key specific issues for their campaigns.

Brown’s strategy

The Republican candidate, who received support from both former President Donald Trump and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, is working to link Rosen to President Joe Biden, who has polled poorly in the Silver State, particularly on the economy and immigration.

Brown has been hitting on inflation and what he describes as chaos at the border, laying the blame on Rosen and Biden; he said she votes with Biden 98 percent of the time.

Rosen has tried to distance herself from the president. She recently sent a letter to Biden calling on him to lower grocery costs by holding large corporations accountable for price gouging. She also sent him a letter calling for him to take action on the border.

It remains to be seen if Brown’s strategy will work, Damore said, and some polls are revealing that voters see differences between the Democratic incumbents and Biden. A New York Times/Siena College poll from May found that that while Nevadans had more favorable views of Trump than Biden, the same couldn’t be said for Brown. Rosen maintained a lead in that poll.

As a veteran wounded in Afghanistan, Brown is likely to lean into the veteran vote, which could be the wild card in the election, said Damore, who is also executive director of The Lincy Institute and Brookings Mountain West.

Rosen’s strategy

There’s much more fodder for Rosen to use against Brown, Damore said.

“The problem for Brown is he’s going to have to show he knows something about Nevada,” Damore said. He made missteps with Yucca Mountain and Brightline West, Damore said, so he is going to have to “get up to speed on Nevada.”

Before moving to Northern Nevada in 2018, Brown lived in Texas and unsuccessfully ran for office there in 2014. Recently, Brown faced criticism for his stance on a proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain that’s widely opposed by Nevadans on both sides of the aisle. In 2022, he expressed support for the project, then clarified he hasn’t committed to supporting the opening of Yucca Mountain before finally saying he opposes it.

Rosen will play up her bipartisan track record, and the fact she’s one of the Senate’s most bipartisan members, Damore said. She held a news conference with Gov. Joe Lombardo, for instance, about a bipartisan issue.

“That’s going to be the contrast that she’s going to draw, that ‘he’s just going to be a Trumpian drone, and here I have a record of proven bipartisanship,’” Damore said.

Shared challenges

One challenge both of the Senate candidates face is name recognition, according to Damore. Brown is not well-known, especially compared with former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who lost his Senate race in 2022. The last time Rosen was on the ballot was six years ago, and there are a lot of new voters now, Damore said.

To what degree Brown will try to distance himself from or embrace Trump is of interest to Damore.

Rosen’s campaign is already going on the air and using its financial advantages to try to define Brown to voters, while Brown is still trying to raise money and figure out what it’ll take to win Nevada, Damore said.

Following Tuesday’s primary, Democrats launched an advertisement campaign against Brown, criticizing Brown for his record on abortion — a winning issue for Democrats in 2022 — saying he supported a Texas abortion ban in 2014 that did not include exceptions for rape or incest.

Brown has said he will not support a national abortion ban and stands by the decision of Nevada voters, who put protections in place through a referendum in 1990.

For Brown, a major objective is to figure out what issues matter to Nevada, “and that’s why the incumbent has the advantage,” Damore said. “They’re representing the state. They go and they can do things in their official capacity that challengers cannot.”

Competition for House seats

Nevada’s matchups for the congressional races in November are all set, although a great deal of fundraising must be accomplished in the next couple of months in order to compete with the Democratic incumbents.

Former North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee will take on Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who found prominence as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. The two previously worked together in the Nevada Legislature as Democrats in the early 2000s, before Lee left the party in 2021 and joined the Republican Party.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Mark Robertson will get another chance to defeat longtime Democratic Rep. Dina Titus. Robertson previously ran against Titus in 2022 but lost by more than 12,500 votes.

In Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, conservative policy analyst Drew Johnson won in a crowded primary field and will take on Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in November.

The Silver State’s lone Republican congressman covering the north, Rep. Mark Amodei, won his re-election and faces an independent, nonpartisan and libertarian candidate in the fall — but not a Democrat.

Those Republican challengers to the Democratic incumbents could face an uphill battle.

Horsford, Lee and Titus were all reelected in the 2022 midterms when a “red wave” was anticipated, and they each won by more than 10,000 votes.

This year’s GOP congressional candidates must compete with the state Democratic establishment’s deep pockets and strong ground game, according to Damore, who thinks the Republican candidates are weaker this time around than they were in 2022.

“In the last couple cycles, our House races have gotten so much attention. What happens this time, I think is the open question,” Damore said. “We know how much energy and effort is going to be at the top two races, but what happens on that third ballot line, I think, is an open question.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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