Indy Primer: Everything you need to know about the battle for control of the Legislature ahead of the primary
Democrats are likely to hold onto their majorities in both houses of the Legislature come November, even if they don’t win any swing seats.
That’s why the party is now angling for a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both houses, allowing Democrats to override any veto from the a potential Republican governor. It’s a long shot — Democrats would need to win five seats that lean Democratic and three of the four swing seats in the Assembly, as well as all three swing seats in the Senate — but not impossible.
Much of that political calculus will be determined based on the results of the state’s June 12 primary election, where at least nine Assembly and three state Senate races will effectively be decided on primary night. And the outcome of two competitive Republican primary races will determine who the party puts forward in two critical swing Senate seats.
Many more seats in both the Senate and the Assembly have already or effectively been decided, either because the candidates aren’t up for re-election this year, only one candidate has declared for the seat, or because only one candidate from a party is running and that party has such an overwhelming voter registration advantage in the district it would be unlikely for another party to win it. In the 42-seat Assembly, 16 Democratic seats and five Republican seats fall into that category, as well as nine Democratic seats and six Republican ones in the 21-seat Senate.
Even more seats will be essentially decided on primary night, either because no candidates from any other party are running or, again, because a party has such an overwhelming voter registration advantage in the district that it would be unlikely it would lose the seat in November.
The six other Assembly seats that will essentially be decided on primary night — because they lean so far towards one party in voter registration — are Districts 12 and 15 on the Democratic side and Districts 13, 23, 32 and 36 on the Republican side.
That leaves 11 seats in the Assembly — five that lean Democratic, two that lean Republican and four true swing seats — and the three swing seats in the Senate potentially in play in the November election.
Two Senate seats held or formerly held by Democrats are technically in play on primary night, though state Sen. Yvanna Cancela has a significant fundraising advantage over her opponent in District 10 as does termed-out Assemblyman James Ohrenschall in District 21. The same holds true for the Republican seat held by state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who has an edge over his sole Republican opponent.
Of the more competitive races, the leading Republican and Democratic candidates in District 9 have faced little or no primary opposition, as is true for the Democratic candidates in Districts 8 and 20. But the outcome of two contentious primaries on the Republican side — between two former lawmakers and a former professional wrestler in District 8 and between an assemblyman and a U.S. Army combat veteran in District 20 — will decide who will face off against the Democratic candidate in November.
Of the four swing seats in the Assembly, the two primaries to watch are in District 4, where the Republican incumbent is facing a primary challenge, and District 37, where a handful of Democrats are facing off to challenge the Republican incumbent in November.
But voter registration is not the end-all to determining the outcome of legislative races — Republicans scored huge wins and took control of both legislative houses in the 2014 midterm elections including taking many districts with a double-digit advantage for Democrats in voter registration, primarily because of low turnout.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of all the primary races to keep tabs on during Election Day:
Senate District 8 (Republican primary)
A crowded field including two former lawmakers and a former professional wrestler is fighting for the Republican nomination in one of the state’s marquee state Senate districts.
State Senate District 8, which includes portions of Summerlin on the western border of Las Vegas, has a narrow 449 person split between the number of registered Democrats over Republicans of the 70,351 voters in the district. Democrats held a narrow 33-person advantage over registered Republicans in the district ahead of the 2014 primaries, the last time the seat was on the ballot.
Former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien, then Halseth, announced last year that she planned to again run for a legislative seat after she resigned her seat in 2012. Since the start of 2017, she’s raised a little more than $36,000.
Former Assemblywoman Valerie Weber, who served in the Legislature between 2002 and 2008, announced she would run for the seat in 2018 and has been endorsed by the Nevada Senate Republican Caucus. She has raised a little less than $102,000 since the start of 2018, including $10,000 each from the Senate Republican Leadership Conference and a PAC affiliated with Republican state Sen. James Settelmeyer.
But the largest fundraising total belongs to a political newcomer with a decidedly non-political background — Dan Rodimer. The onetime professional wrestler raised more than $200,000 in his bid for the seat, with more than three-quarters of the total coming from personal loans.
Whichever candidate wins will likely take on former Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, who served in the Legislature from 2008 to 2014 before losing a bid for the same state Senate seat. She has reported raising almost $110,000 over the cycle so far, with $5,000 contributions coming from South Point Hotel and Casino, a PAC affiliated with a local plumbers and pipefitters union and EMILY’s List.
Her only primary opponent, Stephanie Alvarado, has not reported any fundraising and was arrested in March for allegedly assaulting two police officers.
The seat is currently held by Sen. Patricia Farley, who was elected as a Republican but changed her party registration to nonpartisan and began caucusing with Democrats during the 2017 legislative session. She announced in August she wouldn’t run for re-election.
Senate District 10 (Democratic primary)
Democratic state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, the incumbent, is the favorite to represent this heavily Democratic Las Vegas district, which stretches from downtown Las Vegas south to McCarran Airport. She has represented the district since December 2016, when Clark County commissioners appointed her to fill Ruben Kihuen’s seat after he was elected to Congress.
Cancela, the former political director of the Culinary Union, has the support of the Senate Democratic Caucus, EMILY’s List, the Nevada AFL-CIO, the SEIU Local 1107 and the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers and has raised nearly $193,000 in her bid for the seat since the start of 2017.
Her sole Democratic opponent, animal rights activist Bryce Henderson, has been vocal in the race, criticizing Cancela over several trapping bills during the last legislative session, but has only raised a little more than $9,000 this year.
The winner of the primary will be the only candidate to appear on the general election ballot, since no other candidates from any other parties are running for the seat. Democrats have a 15,000-person voter registration over Republicans in the district, with 25,553 Democrats and 10,381 Republicans.
Senate District 20
Republicans and Democrats alike have their eyes on this Henderson-area district after incumbent Michael Roberson decided to run for lieutenant governor and not seek re-election to one of a handful of competitive state Senate districts up on the 2018 ballot.
On the Republican side, freshman Assemblyman Keith Pickard is seeking a move up to the state Senate, and has been endorsed by the Nevada Senate Republican Caucus and the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. He’s reported raising more than $133,000 since the start of 2017, including $10,000 each from Citizens for Justice, the Senate Republican Leadership Fund and MGM Resorts properties.
He’s facing off against Byron Brooks, a U.S. Army veteran and bail bondsman who has sought to challenge Pickard’s conservative credentials. He’s reported raising more than $72,000 since the start of 2018, with a significant chunk — nearly $45,000 — coming from personal loans.
Democrats have pinned their hopes on political newcomer Julie Pazina, a Henderson small businesswoman endorsed by the Nevada Senate Democratic caucus. She reported raising more than $88,000 through the first six months of 2018, including $5,000 from a PAC affiliated with a plumbers and pipefitters union, Emily’s List, the campaign account of state Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro and a leadership PAC tied to U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.
She’ll face off against former Assemblyman Paul Aizley, who loaned his campaign $10,000 and has spent almost $8,000.
Democrats have a narrow 429-person lead in registered voters, with 28,210 Democrats in the district versus 27,781 Republicans. In 2014, when the seat was last up on the ballot, Republicans held a 23,149 to 22,756 advantage over Democrats ahead of the primary election, an advantage of 393.
Senate District 21 (Democratic primary)
Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, who has served in the Legislature since 2006, is the top contender to represent this Democratic-leaning East Las Vegas district after state Sen. Mark Manendo resigned from the seat last summer after a two-and-a-half-month investigation into allegations of sexual harassment revealed witness-tampering and multiple instances of misconduct dating back years.
Ohrenschall has the backing of the Senate Democratic Caucus, as well as the Nevada AFL-CIO, the SEIU Local 1107, the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers and the Nevada Conservation League, and has raised almost $174,000 since the start of 2017.
He has two Democratic primary opponents: retired fire captain Jay Craddock, who has raised a little more than $26,000 from donations from himself and his family; and working mother Christine Glazer, who has only received a little under $250. There is also one Republican candidate in the race, Ron McGinnis, who hasn’t raised any money so far.
Democrats have nearly a 2-1 voter registration advantage in the district over Republicans, with more than 28,000 Democrats and nearly 15,000 Republicans.
Assembly District 2 (Republican and Democratic primaries)
Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick, a retired Secret Service agent who has represented District 2 since 2008, has attracted a single primary opponent, Jim Small, in his re-election bid to this Summerlin area district.
Hambrick — who is running with the backing of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Association of Public Safety Officers and the Nevada Conservation League — has raised a little more than $69,000 since the start of 2017 in his re-election bid to Small’s $67,000, more than $47,000 of that loans.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrat Jennie Sherwood, a journeywoman electrician, is facing off against David Orentlicher, a UNLV health and constitutional law professor. Sherwood has the backing of the Nevada AFL-CIO, the Nevada State Education Association, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, the National Organization for Women and Moms Demand Action, but has only raised about $10,000 while Orentlicher has raised a little more than $42,000, including a $10,000 contribution from his election committee in Indiana and a $20,000 loan from himself.
Republicans have a narrow voter registration advantage in the district, with 14,854 voters to Democrats’ 12,905, but there’s a possibility for the district to swing in either direction come November.
Assembly District 4 (Republican primary)
Republican Assemblyman Richard McArthur is running for re-election to this swingy northwest Las Vegas seat, which he has represented since 2016 but previously represented between 2008 and 2012. But he faces a primary challenge from insurance agent Ken Rezendes who ran against McArthur in the 2016 Republican primary and lost by 107 votes.
McArthur has raised a little more than $39,000 for his re-election bid since the start of 2017, while Rezendes has raised a little more than $24,000, including a $5,000 loan from himself and a $5,000 contribution from his business. A third Republican candidate in the race, Luis Vega, has raised a little under $9,000.
Should McArthur make it through the primary, he will likely face a challenge from Democrat Connie Munk, a retired mental health professional who is running with the backing of the Nevada Assembly Democratic Caucus, the Nevada AFL-CIO, the SEIU Local 1107, EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada. She has raised a little under $34,000 since the start of 2017 and has one primary opponent, Tony T. Smith, who has raised about $5,000.
Whether the district swings right or left is anyone’s guess, as the district has a fairly even number of registered Republicans and Democrats, with only 99 more Republicans than Democrats. An Independent American party candidate, Bob Lystrup, is unlikely to gain much traction and has only raised about $100.
Assembly District 12 (Democratic primary)
Seven Democratic candidates have thrown their hat in the ring to replace Democratic Assemblyman James Ohrenschall, who is pursuing a bid for the state Senate and leaving the race to represent this blue-leaning district, which stretches from east Las Vegas to Lake Las Vegas, wide open.
Susan Martinez, who has worked in the hospitality industry for 30 years, is the favorite among them, with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, the Nevada AFL-CIO, the SEIU Local 1107 and the Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada. She has also raised a little under $49,000 in her bid for the seat.
Her Democratic primary challengers include: lawyer Anat Levy, who has raised about $21,000 including $15,000 in loans; businessman Brandon Casutt, who has raised about $30,000, including a $10,000 loan from himself; small business owner Cinthia Moore, who has raised $17,000; Walter Lee Seip II, who has raised $4,000; veteran Gabrielle D’Ayr, who has raised $3,000; and communications scientist Gregory York, who has raised about $1,000.
Democrats have a roughly 5,000-person voter registration advantage in the district, meaning whoever wins the primary is likely to come out on top in November. Republican Richard Fletcher and Independent American Mary Elizabeth Boyer Martinez are also running for the seat.
Assembly District 13 (Republican primary)
Las Vegas Metro Police Department Assistant Sheriff Tom Roberts has the fundraising lead and a number of significant endorsements in his bid to represent this northwest Las Vegas district and replace Republican Assemblyman Paul Anderson, who stepped down from his seat to helm the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Roberts has the backing of the Nevada AFL-CIO, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly and the Nevada Conservation League and has raised nearly $75,000 in his bid for the seat. He faces a Republican primary challenge from Steve Sanson, who lost to Anderson in the 2016 Republican primary and has raised about $12,000.
A third Republican primary challenger, James Kemp, has raised only a little more than $2,000. The one Independent American candidate in the race, Leonard Foster, has raised no money.
Whoever wins the Republican primary will be essentially guaranteed a victory in November.
Assembly District 15 (Democratic primary)
Political activist Howard Watts is the favorite to replace retiring Assemblyman Elliot Anderson in this solidly blue Las Vegas district. Watts has the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, the SEIU Local 1107, the Nevada State Education Association, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Giunchigliani and has raised almost $65,000 in his bid for the seat.
One of his Democratic primary challengers, Juan Manuel Chavez, has raised about $11,000. Three other Democratic candidates, Michael Gandy, Lou Toomin and Andrew Spivak, have raised $5,000 or less each.
The one Republican candidate in the race, Stan Vaughan, has not filed the required campaign finance reports.
Assembly District 22 (Republican primary)
With Republican Assemblyman Keith Pickard taking a stab at the state Senate, Melissa Hardy and Richard Bunce are facing off in the Republican primary to represent this Republican-leaning Henderson district. Pickard defeated Bunce in the 2016 primary for the seat.
Hardy, who has run a Port of Subs franchise in Henderson with her husband since 2005, is running with the backing of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Nevada Conservation League and the Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada. Bunce, the lead developer at a custom software development company and the director of voter contract for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign in Nevada, has support from businessman and congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore, state Sen. Michael Roberson and Paul.
Bunce has raised a little under $64,000 in the race, including $37,000 in loans to himself, $2,000 from Ahern Rentals and $1,500 from the Nevada Trucking Association. Hardy, meanwhile, has raised a little more than $45,000, with money from the gaming industry ($5,000 from MGM Resorts, $2,500 from Grand Sierra Resorts and $1,500 from Boyd Gaming) and from former Assemblyman Paul Anderson’s campaign account.
Democrat Kristee Watson, who has raised about $20,000 and is running with the support of the Nevada AFL-CIO and the SEIU Local 1107, is likely to defeat her only primary opponent, Luis Aguirre-Insua, who hasn’t raised any money so far.
Republicans have about a 2,400-person voter registration advantage in the district, which means whoever wins the Republican primary has a significant advantage going into the November election against the Democratic candidate.
Assembly District 23 (Republican primary)
Two Republican candidates are vying for this Boulder City district seat being vacated by Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Woodbury. Whoever wins the primary will be almost entirely guaranteed a victory come November, since the only other candidate in the race, Independent American Party candidate Ralph Preta, has raised no money so far.
Glen Leavitt, a public affairs analyst with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, has the backing of Woodbury and the Nevada AFL-CIO and has raised $55,000 in his bid for the seat, including a $10,000 loan from himself.
Former Las Vegas Metro Police Department officer Matt McCarthy has raised a little more than $80,000, including $32,500 in loans from himself, and has the backing of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Assembly District 24 (Democratic primary)
Four Democratic candidates are facing off in the primary to represent this Reno district currently representing by retiring Democratic Assemblywoman Amber Joiner. Whoever wins the primary will be the only candidate to appear on the general election ballot — guaranteeing a November victory — since no candidates from any other parties filed for the seat.
Former Nevada Department of Taxation head Deonne Contine is running with the backing of the Assembly Democratic Caucus and has received roughly $76,000 in contributions so far in her bid for the seat. She also has the support of the SEIU Local 1107, the Nevada State Education Association and EMILY’s List. A PAC funded by the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, the national drug lobby, has also sent out a mailer on her behalf and has been running Facebook ads in support of her campaign.
But Contine faces serious challenges from retail store owner Tom Stewart, who has the backing of several notable locals including former legislator Sheila Leslie, former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, Reno City Council Member Jenny Brekhus and Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung and environmental engineer Sarah Peters, who has the support of the Nevada AFL-CIO, the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council and the Nevada Conservation League. Stewart has raised about $29,000 in his bid for the seat while Peters has received about $25,000.
A fourth candidate, state employee Edward Coleman, has raised a more meager $1,370 in his bid for the seat.
Assembly District 32 (Republican primary)
The wife of veteran lawmaker Ira Hansen is facing a tough primary challenge in this heavily Republican rural district that also includes parts of Sparks.
Alexis Hansen, who announced her bid for her husband’s Assembly seat the same day he announced his intention to run for an overlapping state Senate district, has reported raising just over $20,000 since the start of 2017 in her first bid for public office. Her opponent, longtime Humboldt County Commissioner Tom Fransway, has raised nearly $19,000 in his bid for the legislative seat, including more than $16,000 in personal loans.
The lone Democrat to file in the district, Paula Povilaitis, raised a little less than $4,000 since the start of 2018. She faces an uphill climb in the district, which has more than 9,000 registered Republicans than Democrats.
Assembly District 33 (Republican primary)
A veteran Republican assemblyman is facing a tough primary challenge in this ruby-red rural Assembly district, with the winner advancing to Carson City in 2019 with no other party candidates filing to run.
Incumbent John Ellison, first elected in 2010, reported raising a little over $158,000 since the start of 2017, including $5,000 each from South Point Hotel and Casino and the Las Vegas Sands. His primary opponent, Elko Mayor Chris Johnson, raised almost $63,000 for the seat, including a $50,000 personal loan made to his campaign
The seat has one of the highest percentages of Republican voters of any Republican district, with more than 17,052 of the district’s 30,701 voters registered as a Republican.
Assembly District 35
Competitive primaries for both major parties in this key Assembly swing district will take place on primary election day, with at least five candidates angling to replace incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Justin Watkins, who announced in October he wouldn’t run for re-election.
On the Republican side, paralegal David Schoen is facing off against Real Water executive Aimee Jones, the wife of former Assemblyman Brent Jones. Schoen reported raising around $54,000 since the start of 2017, including about $20,000 in candidate loans and $5,000 from the Las Vegas Metro Chamber. Jones reported bringing in just over $19,600, including $5,000 from Incorp Services.
The Assembly Democratic Caucus endorsed nonprofit executive Michelle Gorelow in February, but she’s facing a well-funded primary challenge from Paul Nimsuwan. Gorelow reported raising just under $41,000 since the beginning of 2018, including $18,000 from incumbent Assembly Democrats and their affiliated PACs. Nimsuwan more than doubled that fundraising total — raising a little less than $92,000 over the reporting period, almost all of which was a personal loan to his campaign.
Regardless of the primary outcome, voters in the district will have a third choice on the November ballot of Daniel Hofstein, running as a nonpartisan. He reported raising just over $30,000, including a $20,000 personal loan.
Democrats have slowly added to their registration lead in the district since the 2016 primary. The party has 16,376 registered voters compared to 13,327 registered Republicans at the close of the primary — a difference of 3,049, or an added 1,058 lead from the same period ahead of the cycle’s primary race.
Assembly District 36 (Republican primary)
Incumbent Republican James Oscarson is in the fight of his political life against prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof in what is likely the nastiest legislative primary fight of the 2018 midterms.
Oscarson, who was first elected in 2012, has faced primary challenges and angst from Republicans in Nye County after he voted in favor of the contentious Commerce Tax proposal favored by Gov. Brian Sandoval in the 2015 legislative session. He narrowly survived a contentious 2016 primary, and then defeated Hof — then running as a Libertarian Party member — in the general election.
Hof, who changed his party registration and has attracted high-profile support including from President Donald Trump’s informal advisor Roger Stone, has largely self-funded his campaign, loaning it more than $210,000 since the start of 2017.
Oscarson has also raised significant funds, bringing in nearly $197,000 since the start of 2017, including more than $20,000 from several MGM properties.
Another Republican candidate, Joseph Bradley, has raised only about $2,200. The lone Democratic candidate for the district, Lesia Romanov, has raised $1,400.
There’s a 7,848 difference between the number of registered Republicans (19,219) and Democrats (11,371) in the district, with more than 8,000 registered nonpartisans.
Assembly District 37 (Democratic primary)
One of the few pick-up opportunities for Assembly Democrats comes in this Summerlin-area district, where the party hopes to knock off incumbent Assemblyman Jim Marchant, running unopposed in the Republican Party primary.
The Democrat who raised the most so far in 2018 is attorney and small business owner Shea Backus, who brought in nearly $30,000 in her bid for the office. She’ll face off against Rick Cornstuble, who reported raising nearly $7,000 so far, and Robbie Pearce, who reported raising $275.
Whoever emerges from the primary will face off against Marchant, who was elected to his first term in 2016 and reported raising a little more than $111,000 since the start of 2017, including $5,000 each from the conservative Keystone Corporation’s chairman John Gibson and South Point Hotel & Casino.
Democrats hold a narrow registration advantage of just 18 voters, or 14,217 registered Democrats to 14,199 Republicans and 7,487 registered nonpartisans. The narrow registered voter advantage has actually flipped in the two years since the 2016 primary election, when Republicans had 14,110 registered voters in the district and Democrats had 13,879.
Assembly District 42 (Democratic primary)
Three Democrats are facing off in a key primary to replace Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, who announced last November that she wouldn’t run for re-election. No Republicans have filed for the seat, so the primary winner will be the seated in the Legislature come 2019.
The presumptive favorite is Alexander Assefa, a small business owner who came to the U.S. 18 years ago as a refugee from Ethiopia and is endorsed by the Assembly Democratic caucus. He reported raising a little under $62,000 over the first six months of 2018, including $5,000 from the progressive Peoples’ PAC, $3,000 from Citizens for Justice and $1,000 from Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson.
He’ll face off against Kathleen Lauckner, a former UNLV professor, and LaDon Henry, who is seeking to become the first transgender man elected to the state Assembly. Both lag Assefa in fundraising — Lauckner raised just under $5,000 and Henry brought in $1,820 since the start of 2018.
Democrats hold a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in registered voters in the district — 11,590 registered Democrats and 5,990 Republicans, with 5,787 nonpartisan voters. Democrats have added 767 registered voters between now and the close of registration for the state’s 2016 primary, compared to 329 registered voters for Republicans.
Disclosure: Several Indy donors are mentioned in this story. You can see a full list of donors here.