Not long ago, Nevada Republicans were hoping to pick up a few seats in the Assembly this year but had little hope of gaining control of the 42-seat lawmaking body dominated by Democrats for decades.
But now, with the GOP racking up early-voting leads in more than a half-dozen Assembly districts in Clark County held by Democrats, Republicans have boosted efforts to help candidates in close Assembly races ahead of Tuesday’s election as they eye the possibility of taking over for the first time since 1985.
The GOP would have to pick up seven seats to win majority control of the Assembly, where Democrats now have a 27-15 seat advantage. Most insiders predict Republicans might win five to seven seats — unless Democrats make a strong comeback on Election Day. That could mean a 21-21 seat tie, as happened in 1995.
“We don’t have a crystal ball,” Minority Leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, said Friday. “But obviously, early turnout numbers in both Clark County and certainly in the north are favoring Republicans. Consequently a number of seats are in play and we are engaged in races that even one month ago we didn’t think we’d be putting energy and resources into.”
Democrats said they think they will hold on, however, believing that voters side with them on the issues.
“Democrats are confident going into the elections on Tuesday because our candidates support what working-class Nevada families support; increased funding for education, an economy that thrives with investment and new industry, and a fair shot for everyone,” said Brendan Summers, executive director of the Assembly Democratic Caucus.
On the state Senate side, Republicans also hope to take control as the GOP leads balloting in three key races — Districts 8, 9 and 20 — that will decide if Democrats remain in charge. Democrats now hold an 11-10 advantage.
If Republicans gain a majority in one or both legislative houses, GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval will gain support to carry out his agenda, including bolstering education and economic development. Sandoval is expected to easily win re-election Tuesday over little-known Democrat Bob Goodman.
“We think Republicans certainly have the opportunity in the next Legislature to be the governing party there and apply some of the remedies and solutions we think Nevadans are looking for,” Hickey said.
As of Friday morning, Republicans had cast 22,297 more ballots than Democrats statewide. In Democrat-rich Clark County, GOP ballots outnumbered Democratic ballots by 1,554.
But higher turnout was expected Friday, the last day of early voting and a state holiday. As a result, all of the races could tighten before Election Day.
Republican balloting so far is running ahead of votes cast by Democrats in seven Assembly districts where GOP pickups are possible in Clark County. In the Sparks area, Democratic Assemblyman Skip Daly’s District 31 seat is in jeopardy. He faces a strong challenge from Republican Jill Dickman.
In Clark County, four Democratic incumbents were running behind the GOP in early voting, including Andy Eisen of District 21; Lesley Cohen of District 29; James Healey of District 35; and Paul Aizley of District 41.
The other open Assembly seats that could flip to Republicans are Districts 5, 9 and 34.
The GOP leads over Democratic ballots were all relatively small, however, ranging from 82 to 482. Also, some candidates could get more crossover votes than others, throwing most of the competitive races in the toss-up column.
The outcome of the Assembly election could be complicated by the outcome in two races in which judges have disqualified the Democratic candidates over residency issues, though their names remain on the ballot.
In District 34, Democrat Meghan Smith was disqualified and the judge ordered signs posted at polling places to inform voters. Republican Victoria Seaman has a chance to win the district, where 82 more GOP than Democrat ballots have been cast so far.
In District 10, Democrat Jesse “Jake” Holder was ruled ineligible, but his GOP opponent Shelly Shelton could still lose the race. So far, 482 more Democratic ballots have been cast than Republican in the district.
If either ineligible candidate wins election, the Assembly can decide whether to seat the winner anyway or have the Clark County Commission appoint a Democrat replacement. After the last election, Democrats in Carson City seated Assemblyman Andrew Martin even though he was ruled ineligible, with only token Republican resistance.
One GOP insider said that if Democrats retain the Assembly majority and seat a disqualified candidate, Republicans would likely mount a legal challenge this time. If the GOP is in charge, the County Commission would be asked to pick a replacement.
In 1995, with the Assembly split 21-21, Republicans and Democrats decided to share leadership, electing co-speakers Democrat Joe Dini and Republican Lynn Hettrick and naming co-chairs for all committees.
While a tie could again occur, the fallout might be different. At least one Democratic Assemblyman, Harvey Munford of Las Vegas, said several GOP assemblymen had invited him to caucus with them, effectively breaking the tie in favor of the Republicans.
Munford, 74, who is termed out after the next session, said he’s considering the idea because Democratic leaders have never given him a chairmanship despite his seniority.
“They (Republicans) said the door is open,” Munford said. “In the Democratic caucus I’ve never been given the respect I deserve after so many years of service. This is my swan song and I want an opportunity to be part of leadership, so to speak.”
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.