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What’s at stake in race between Sisolak and Laxalt

No one knows who will be Nevada’s next governor — even after 14 days of early voting.

More Democrats than Republicans have cast a ballot heading into Election Day, but that’s typical. In 2016, Democrats ended early voting with a 45,500-voter lead. This year, the Democrat lead after early voting looks to be less than half that. For context, Democrats Hillary Clinton and now-Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto won Nevada two years ago by around 27,000 votes apiece.

One insider said the races between Republican Adam Laxalt and Democrat Steve Sisolak for governor and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., for U.S. Senate are the “closest ones I’ve ever seen.” Private data also show that independent and third-party voters are breaking for Republicans, but far from overwhelmingly. The health care issue matters, and it’s holding down Republican support among unaffiliated voters.

The deciding factor is going to be Republican turnout on Election Day. If Republicans show up, Laxalt and Heller are going to win. If Republicans don’t, Democrats will sweep all the major races in Nevada.

Especially in the governor’s race, there is plenty at stake for Republicans wondering if it’s worth going to the polls.

Start with the makeup of the Nevada Legislature. Democrats are going to have control of both houses, just like they did in 2017. Democrats were so extreme last session that Gov. Brian Sandoval — a left-leaning moderate — vetoed 41 bills, setting the Nevada record for sustained vetoes. If Sisolak is in the Governor’s Mansion, those aren’t vetoed.

Say goodbye to the modest labor reforms Republican passed in 2015 and the public’s ability to see how much government retirees collect from PERS. Sandoval also vetoed a bill that would have allowed government-subsidized Medicaid to compete against private insurance companies.

Then there were the bills Democrats shelved until they have a Democrat governor. That includes making Nevada a sanctuary state, which several Democrats proposed last year. Earlier this year, Sisolak said he would veto that bill. He backpedaled almost immediately and now dodges the question of whether he’d sign a sanctuary state bill.

Sisolak already has said he’d sign a bill giving state workers the ability to bargain collectively. That’s going to cost the state a bundle — just go to TransparentNevada.com and look at the salaries in local governments, where employees have had collective bargaining for decades. That’s why he’ll decide the right time to talk about tax hikes is after the election.

Sisolak has refused to say, which is telling enough, if he’d sign a bill repealing Nevada’s right-to-work law. Democrats and their trial lawyer donors also want to roll back the construction defects reform Republicans passed in 2015.

Then you get to guns. Sisolak has promised to ban “assault weapons.” If you look at federal legislation, that could include a ban on all semi-automatic pistols and rifles. Expect Democrats to pass state-funded abortions, as well.

Given the makeup of the Legislature, Laxalt is unlikely to pass any sweeping conservative reforms. His detailed policy proposals do include plenty worth supporting, including reforms to Nevada’s onerous occupational licensing laws.

Those are significant policy stakes for Republicans, but are they high enough to motivate Republican voters? That’s the question Tuesday’s election will turn on.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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