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Republicans seeing red in Southern Nevada’s House races

Updated November 6, 2022 - 11:11 am

WASHINGTON — Democrats may lose control of two of the three House seats they control in Southern Nevada, as races tighten in the final days before the midterm elections.

Although early voting shows slight leads in the most competitive districts, at least one recent poll puts Republicans ahead, buoyed by concerns over the economy.

Nonpartisan pundits and analysts predict close races nationally, with Republicans poised to make gains in Nevada.

“I have a hard time seeing Democrats keeping all three seats in this environment,” said J. Miles Coleman with the University of Virginia Center for Politics and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan political handicapping newsletter.

Republicans need to flip just five congressional seats to wrest the gavel away from Democrats, who took the chamber in the 2018 midterm elections during the Trump administration.

All three Democrats seeking re-election, Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, have painted their Republican opponents, Mark Robertson, April Becker and Sam Peters, respectively, as extreme on abortion rights and other social issues. The GOP challengers, meanwhile, claim the incumbents are spendthrifts and reckless with federal assistance that has resulted in record inflation, high gas prices and a souring economy.

The state’s lone Republican in the congressional district, Rep. Mark Amodei of Carson City, is a huge favorite to win re-election over his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Mercedes Krause, and two third-party candidates.

A recent Emerson College/KLAS-TV, Channel 8, poll shows Robertson at 54 percent and Titus at 42 percent in the 1st District, while Becker leads Lee 52 percent to 47 percent in the 3rd District. Horsford is the only Democrat leading in that poll, ahead of Peters 51 percent to 47 percent. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, except for the 3rd District, in which the margin is 4.3 percentage points.

Traditional headwinds

In addition to current economic woes, Democrats are battling historic trends that favor the party that doesn’t hold the presidency in midterm elections.

President Joe Biden’s low approval rating in national polls is seen as a further drag on vulnerable Democrats in marginal districts.

Biden has not campaigned in Nevada.

Republicans have seized on the economy to batter Democrats on an issue that resonates with families struggling with rising costs and eroding purchasing power, despite record low unemployment.

Robertson, a small business owner in Henderson, has tied Biden and Titus to congressional spending bills passed by Democrats that Robertson claims have fueled inflation and rising costs on Nevada families.

“Unfortunately, it’s these working people whom Joe Biden and Dina Titus have ignored. It’s their reckless spending spree that brought about the highest inflation we’ve seen in 40 years,” Robertson said last month.

Titus, seeking a seventh term in Congressional District 1, claims Robertson would merely be a “rubber stamp” for the Republicans’ “extremist and unpopular agenda.”

As the dean of the Nevada congressional delegation, Titus is touting her seniority and success in bringing federal assistance to the state when it was laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the tourism and hospitality industry.

Titus also shifted her message to warn of GOP slashing programs for seniors, such as Social Security and Medicare.

Redistricting changes

Although Titus won re-election in 2020 with 62 percent of the vote, the Democrat-controlled Legislature drew new congressional lines in 2021 that carved up the once-solid stronghold to shore up neighboring districts.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which measures partisan voting strength in congressional districts, calculated that Titus’ former district fell from a Democratic advantage of 11 points to just three points.

A loss of Democratic precincts to Nevada Congressional District 3 made District 1 competitive in a year that favors Republicans. The only way Nevada Democrats could have bolstered the three Democrat-held congressional seats was to blatantly gerrymander a district stretching from Las Vegas to Reno.

They opted against that and now all three Democratic seats are at risk, particularly the 1st and 3rd Districts, according to David Wasserman with the Cook Political Report.

Early vote totals as of Friday showed Democrats leading Republicans by just more than 8,500 votes, with nearly 30,000 nonpartisan votes in the District 1 race.

The Cook Political Report has rated the District 1 race a “toss-up,” while Sabato’s Crystal Ball has rated it a “lean Democratic,” although vulnerable to a “red wave.”

Swing district

In neighboring Congressional District 3, the nonpartisan pundits rate the race between Lee and Becker a “toss-up,” based on the makeup of the suburban and rural district around Las Vegas.

It has historically been a swing district, with both Democrats and Republicans winning the seat in past years.

Independents hold more sway in District 3, where Democrats led Republicans by just 6,400 votes as of Friday, with nearly 34,000 nonpartisan ballots cast.

Lee, seeking a third term, has attacked Becker on abortion, with endorsements from groups that seek to restrict access to the procedure. It is Lee’s central message in the more affluent district with potential crossover votes from Republican women and independents.

A member of the House Appropriations Committee with oversight of all federal spending, Lee also touts her role as a moderate and votes for infrastructure, water projects, reduction of prescription drug prices for seniors and pandemic relief for local businesses and workers.

Becker, a real estate lawyer, has downplayed the abortion issue. She opposes abortion but supports the procedure in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the health of the mother.

Instead, Becker is hammering her opponent for spending and inflation. Becker said Lee voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and supported spending bills that drove up prices while supporting government closure of businesses and schools during the pandemic.

Becker is backed by current House Republican leadership, who see Becker as the party’s best chance to pick up a congressional seat in Southern Nevada.

In 2020, Becker narrowly lost a bid for the state Senate, proving her campaign bona fides.

Coleman, with Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said “Lee is the most vulnerable” of the state’s Democratic congressional incumbents. “She has the most marginal district, and a heralded opponent,” Coleman said.

Safer incumbent

Analysts see Horsford, in Congressional District 4, as the most likely to win re-election in a sweeping jurisdiction that includes Mesquite, North Las Vegas, Pahrump and central Nevada counties.

Horsford is running on his record and success on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee that produced the prescription drug relief law for seniors and child tax credits to benefit families in his working class district.

Horsford also has the most “polarizing opponent,” Coleman noted. Real estate businessman Sam Peters has been endorsed by House Freedom Caucus members, who are considered the most conservative in Congress.

Peters questioned the 2020 presidential election outcome, but he insists he is not an election denier, and that he has been unfairly labeled an extremist by the media.

Peters’ supporters rallied outside an event in east Las Vegas recently where Horsford spoke. The Peters supporters openly carried weapons, which is legal in Nevada, and dispersed without incident following the arrival of police, according to the incident report.

But the incident drew complaints about tactics and intimidation from Horsford and those attending the event, which included other Democratic congressional members of color.

Peters, a retired Air Force major, has made Southwest border security, immigration and drug smuggling a major theme of his campaign.

With Nevada’s congressional districts in the Las Vegas Valley competitive, national media representatives have flocked to the state. “I’d say at this point, Democrats are at a very real risk of being shut out of the House delegation,” Coleman said of the Nevada races.

“It’s almost ironic that Horsford got swept out in the 2014 Republican wave, but may be the best-positioned House Democrat this cycle. To me, it’s a turnout game more than anything else,” Coleman said.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin @reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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