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Sides handicap November legislative races in Nevada

CARSON CITY — Now that candidates have filed for office, it’s time to handicap the November legislative races.

If you pick winners the safest way — based on the latest party registration figures and historic voting trends — Republicans could gain two seats in both the Senate and the Assembly.

That would mean the GOP would seize control of the Senate with a 12-9 margin, while Democrats would retain control of the Assembly, but by a closer 24-18 advantage.

In neither house would a party have a veto-proof, two-thirds majority. That would force them to compromise on tax and budget legislation.

Of course, the Democrats don’t subscribe to political Sabermetrics and believe voters will be energized by President Barack Obama and a recovering economy. They see Democrats gaining at least a 13-8 majority in the Senate and adding a seat or two to their 26-16 advantage in the Assembly.

"The presidential race is definitely going to help us," said Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. "We see the economy improving every day; Republicans are not doing anything to help the economy."

Fielding solid candidates who care about their constituents — and not registration voting statistics — is the most important factor in winning elections, according to Denis.

Assembly Democratic Caucus Chairman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, agrees with that viewpoint and sees Democrats picking up a seat or two in the Assembly.

But state Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said high gasoline prices, 13 percent state unemployment and a poor state economy aren’t going to help Democrats in Nevada. Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination for president and help Republicans in the down-ticket races, he added.

Roberson said he overcame a Democratic registration advantage in winning his seat in 2010 and does not see how Democratic state Senate candidates Joyce Woodhouse, Justin Jones and Benny Yerushalmi, who lost their last legislative elections, suddenly are going to be winners in key state Senate races this year. He envisions a 12-9 Republican majority in the Senate in 2013.

"Why is Joyce Woodhouse a better candidate now than when I beat her two years ago?" Roberson asked.

In 12 of the 21 state Senate districts, and in 26 of the 42 Assembly districts, Democrats have more registered voters than Republicans. Their total edge statewide is 47,000 among active voters, down from 60,000 at the time of the general election in 2010.

A rule of thumb that generally works is that Republicans often win seats when they are within 5 percentage points of Democratic registration. That’s because GOP voters historically cast ballots in higher percentages than Democrats. The winning candidates often are those who receive the most nonpartisan votes.

Assembly Republican Caucus Chairman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, figures on the GOP gaining three or four Assembly seats, leaving his party just short of gaining the majority for the first time since 1985.

Also, Hickey is hoping that Republican Wesley Duncan, a lawyer and Iraq War veteran, can upset Conklin in District 37. Conklin, a legislator for 10 years, could be Assembly speaker in 2013 if he wins.

Conklin said he respects Duncan for his service, but intends to win re-election. Democrats held a 3,000-registered-voter advantage in the district when he won re-election in 2010, but that advantage is less than 500 because of redistricting.

"Elections are won by the candidates who best understand voters and will work across party lines for the best interests of the state," Conklin said.

"Wesley is a candidate straight out of central casting," Hickey contended. "He prosecuted suicide bombers, snipers and the al-Qaida. This is going to be a David-and-Goliath race. Conklin will have all the money in the world to campaign. But I would bet on David."

That’s a tall order, with so much ridding on the seat for Conklin .

In other races, Republican David Espinosa is expected to win over Democratic incumbent Richard "Skip" Daly in District 31 in Washoe County. Because of redistricting, this formerly Democratic district now is Republican.

At the same time, Assemblywoman April Mastroluca, D-Henderson, could lose District 29 to Republican gun shop owner Bob Irwin. He lost to Assembly Speaker John Oceguera in another district two years ago, but aims to pull an upset in a district where the Democratic voter advantage is about 700.

The state Senate could be even more competitive.

Republicans can return to power if they take the District 5 and 6 seats in Clark County that Democrats Shirley Breeden and Allison Copening won in 2008 with the help of Obama’s landslide. Neither is running for re-election and Democratic registration leads in the districts have been cut to just more than 2,000 votes, or about 4 percentage points.

Democrats are fielding Woodhouse and Yerushalmi as their candidates. But both lost in 2010.

Republicans are countering with Steve Kirk and Dr. Annette Teijeiro in a District 5 primary and lawyer Mark Hutchison in District 6.

Another potentially close state Senate race is District 9 in Clark County, where Democrats are up by nearly 5 percentage points and fielding lawyer Justin Jones as their candidate against former Republican spokeswoman Mari Nakashima St. Martin.

In Washoe County’s District 15, a celebrated battle will take place between Republican state Sen. Greg Brower and Democrat Sheila Leslie.

Leslie, a legislator since 1998, resigned from her Senate seat in February after she moved out of safe Democratic District 13 and into District 15. Republicans have a 1,500-registered-voter edge.

Denis noted that Obama carried all four of those potentially tossup Senate districts in 2008, and he expects Democratic candidates will win them, too.

But Roberson, who loves to recite political statistics, said Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval won the same districts in 2010 and so will Republican state Senate candidates this November.

Not so fast, Denis says. Obama will come to Nevada in the fall, and that will raise enthusiasm among Democrats. Denis said Republicans cannot win seats where the Democrats’ advantage is as high as it is in the three Clark County state Senate seats.

Unions are united behind the Democratic candidates and will get voters to the polls, said Vishnu Sabramianiam, chief of the AFL-CIO American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union in Carson City.

He said the poor turnout — less than 33,000 — at the GOP presidential caucus in January shows the lack of enthusiasm by Republicans toward their presidential candidate.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

KEY RACES

Here’s the outlook for key state Senate and Assembly races based on the latest political party registration figures and historic voting trends:

SENATE

■ District 5: Democratic Sen. Shirley Breeden of Henderson is giving up this seat. Former Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse will be challenged by Republicans Steve Kirk or Annette Teijeiro. Democrats hold only a 2,200 registered-voter advantage, compared with a nearly 5,000 voter edge during the last race in 2008. Woodhouse lost that year in another district where Democrats also held a registration advantage. Close race, but a Republican pickup.

■ District 6: Democratic Sen. Allison Copening is giving up her Clark County seat in a district where Democrats hold a 2,600 registered-voter advantage. Republican Mark Hutchison, a lawyer who often represents the party, will face Democrats Benny Yerushalmi or Thomas Welsh. Yerushalmi lost in another district in 2010 where Democrats had a significant registration advantage. Hutchison wins. Republican pickup.

■ District 9: Republican Elizabeth Halseth resigned from this Clark County seat. Democrats hold a 2,200 registered-voter advantage. Democrats Fred Conquest and Justin Jones face off in a primary, while Republicans Mari Nakashima St. Martin and Brent Jones have their own primary. St. Martin wins the primary and general election in a close race, and the seat stays Republican.

■ District 15: In Washoe County, Republican Greg Brower, appointed to the seat last year, takes on Democrat Sheila Leslie, who resigned her state Senate seat in District 13, moved into District 15 and took on Brower. Republicans hold a 1,500 registered-voter advantage. Leslie is a formidable candidate, but Brower wins a close race.

■ District 18: This is a new state Senate district given to Clark County through redistricting, taken away from the district held by Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. Current Republican Assembly members Scott Hammond and Richard McArthur face off in a Republican primary, while Democrats Kelli Ross and Donna Schlemmer have their own primary. Since Republicans hold a 1,300 registered-voter advantage, whichever Republican wins the primary prevails in November. Stays Republican.

ASSEMBLY

■ District 5: Democratic incumbent Marilyn Dondero-Loop should face Republican and former Assemblyman Bill Harrington in the general election. Democrats hold a 700 registered-voter advantage, down from 1,700 two years ago. Close race, but the seat likely will stay Democrat.

■ District 19: Redistricting puts Republican Cresent Hardy of Mesquite in what had been a Democratic district held by Democrat Steven Brooks of North Las Vegas. Republicans now hold a 900 registered-voter advantage, and Brooks has moved to safe Democratic District 17 where he is a candidate. Victory for Hardy and a pickup for Republicans.

■ District 20: This is Hardy’s old district and one where Democrats hold a 3,300 registered-voter advantage. Former Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel is one of several Democrats seeking the seat. Pickup for Democrats.

■ District 29: Democratic incumbent April Mastroluca runs for re-election in this Southern Nevada district where Democrats hold less than a 700 voter edge, half of their 2010 advantage. Republican Bob Irwin could pull an upset. Pickup for Republicans.

■ District 31: Because of redistricting, incumbent Democrat Richard "Skip" Daly of Sparks finds himself in a district where Republicans hold a 1,400 registered-voter advantage. Republican David Espinosa likely will emerge victorious. Pickup for Republicans.

■ District 35: This is a formerly safe Republican seat long held by Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, now a state Senate candidate. But because of redistricting 700 more Democrats than Republicans are now in what is a Clark County district. Democrats James Healey and Nathan Sosa are vying for the seat, as are Republicans Adam Cegavske and Tom Blanchard. But Cegavske could prevail because of name recognition. His mother, state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, is a candidate for Congress. Seat stays Republican.

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