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A time of transition — political and personal

Four years ago, Democrats gathered at the Brasilia Ballroom in the Rio erupted in cheers halfway through Election Night when Pennsylvania went to John Kerry.

On Tuesday, it was fitting the party crammed into the same room, even if Pennsylvania was decided two hours before the party began. Democrats needed to exorcise their statewide demons. And once again they gathered in such numbers that party officials were in the process of shutting off the room when national cable networks finally moved Barack Obama across the 270 electoral vote line that had been inevitable for several hours.

Although Nevada had voted twice each for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, those elections were decided by a narrow enough margin to keep Nevada in the battleground column.

Tuesday’s performance by Obama, with early voting in Elko County breaking only 2-to-1 for John McCain, establishes a true progressive platform for a state that so often bows to the fear of higher taxes and shies from spending any money on the public good.

There’s no mistaking Obama’s monstrous 120,000-vote majority in Nevada. There is a mandate in the Silver State — a voter-led push for change that began at the precinct caucuses. You could feel it begin at those January meetings, in spite of Hillary Clinton’s ceremonial victory. As I watched Republicans next to me voting for Obama, I knew Nevada could go blue.

And the organization established by the state Democratic Party and the unprecedented Obama campaign made it easier to reach out to voters.

Republicans — underfunded for the first time and wavering in the Mojave without much of a message — stuck to robo-call contacts that proved fruitless even down ticket.

"Nice guy" Jon Porter proved again how inaccurate that moniker is when he failed to concede his 3rd District seat to Democrat Dina Titus in time for the 11 p.m. news. But Democrats finally won it, just in time to defend it in the run-up to the new boundaries that will be drawn after the 2010 Census.

First-term Republican Rep. Dean Heller retained his 2nd District seat, beating Democrat Jill Derby by a larger percentage than he did last cycle, before his vote against the massive Wall Street bailout.

So even though Nevada isn’t going to be home to the three amigas in the House — Rep. Shelley Berkley easily held onto her 1st District seat — the Democratic surge is going to pay dividends in the state Legislature.

Democrats picked up both seriously contested seats in the state Senate, giving them a larger cushion against new Minority Leader Bill Raggio — and, more importantly, Gov. Jim Gibbons. I correctly picked Sen. Joe Heck’s narrow loss but didn’t see the drubbing coming for Sen. Bob Beers.

In the state Assembly, I predicted exactly which seats Democrats would pick up (5 and 21), but, like the Democratic leadership, missed the seat they failed to hold. Bet Speaker Barbara Buckley is kicking herself for not finding a Democrat to run against District 22 Lynn Stewart — he Libertarian got 22 percent in that race.

Still, Madame Speaker’s veto-proof majority, coupled with Democratic control of the upper house, is awesome power.

Nevada will transition into the next legislative session with Steven Horsford adjusting to his new title as Senate majority leader and Buckley trying not to damage her bid for governor in 2010.

More than anything here in Nevada, Democrats in the Legislature come in with the highest expectations, not to mention they’ll be buffeted by voter support for a room tax hike designed to divert more money for the public schools and a governor who is again about to adjust the state’s budget downward. It is possible to envision the Legislature still being in session when kids go back to school in 2009.

Democrats campaigned for near-total control and won it. Tuesday’s election will either be the party’s biggest blessing or its largest curse. The Legislature has never been known to take a challenge head on. And yet the state’s financial health has never been in a more dire condition.

This transition to the next legislative session will be the most important story of the wake of Tuesday’s election.

But this is also a time of personal transition. Today is my final column for the Review-Journal.

It’s hard to walk away from a journalism career after 15 years, but in many ways, journalism is walking away from those who have considered it a calling, and more importantly, those who rely on its quality to monitor their community.

I’ll be staying in Las Vegas. And for now I’ll just be like any other consumer of news, crossing my fingers that the industry can survive its many challenges. This has been a good ride, but it felt like the right time to pull over for a while.

This has been the most incredible election cycle, from the caucuses to Tuesday’s night’s results.

Maybe I’m just caught up in the optimism. But with hope reigning, it just feels it was time for my own change.

 

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906 or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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