What I learned from the election
Before we leave Election ’18 behind and slide right into the presidential cycle, here are my Top 10 observations about what just happened:
No. 1 — Nevada is a blue state. This is painful for me to acknowledge because it goes against the “We Matter” mantra I have posited for many cycles. I have argued that Nevada is a key swing state in presidential contests because of our relatively close voter registration numbers, and the contenders and parties, based on candidate visits and money spent, have agreed.
No more. At least not for now. And smart GOP operatives, here and in D.C., are starting to realize this, too, in the wake of Tuesday’s results.
With the exception of 2014, when its motor was in the midterm shop, the Reid Machine has performed remarkably well in every cycle after 2006. Barack Obama won the state twice and Hillary Clinton won it once. The machine saved its eponymous founder in 2010 (Sharron Angle helped a bit), and it erased Dean Heller and Adam Laxalt this year in races that turned out not to be nearly as close as anyone thought.
The Republicans have no chance to take the state Senate in 2020, and the Democrats will easily hold the Assembly. So the party will control redistricting and reapportionment, too, and those lines will be blue.
I would be surprised if President Trump, who has been snubbed by Nevada in successive cycles and tends to take such things personally, will even compete here in 2020. I hope I am wrong because I want us to matter.
But we are purple no more; we are blue. We (chokes up) do not matter.
No. 2 – Washoe has gone blue, too. Sure, the GOP has a small registration edge, but both Jacky Rosen and Steve Sisolak easily won there. Clinton edged Trump, too, in a presidential year.
The truth is that Republicans in Washoe are more moderate, generally, than they were when it was a reliably red county. This is not, as I have said, Adam Laxalt’s grandfather’s Washoe County. Democrats used to just try to hold their own in Washoe; now the question is by how much they can win it.
No telling how long it will last. But some old-timers, including business leaders, hitched themselves to the Laxalt wagon and it went off a cliff. Meanwhile, Reno’s nonpartisan but progressive mayor, Hillary Schieve, publicly endorsed Sisolak.
Who is the northern power now?
No. 3 – The dog-whistlers lose. The GOP triumverate of Heller, Laxalt and lieutenant governor hopeful Michael Roberson used phony issues, especially sanctuary cities, to try to drive up the white vote in rural Nevada to win their races. It failed spectacularly.
Sure, they all won by landslides in the 15 counties between Las Vegas and Reno. But they clearly alienated urban voters and helped rev up the minority vote. Heckuva job, guys.
Their toxic brand of politics, so analogous to Trump’s, was repudiated by voters and all three should be consigned to the trash heap of Nevada political history. Roberson needs a real job, Heller can go ranch and race cars and Laxalt can go to work for the Sands or for ex-Gov. Bob List.
This is Nevada, though, the land of second and third chances. So I wouldn’t be surprised if all three already are plotting comebacks. After all, there are municipal races this spring….
No. 4 – Goodbye D.C. clout: Nevada lost a lot of capital juice – or almost all – when Harry Reid retired. Heller was a backbencher, to be sure, but at least he was in the majority party.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is coming into her own, but she can’t do much. And Rosen is a rookie in the minority.
In the House, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford are freshmen, and Mark Amodei is in the minority now. So it’s all on Dina Titus, who has seniority and will move up.
But this is not a pretty picture for a small state, and it’s not just about Yucca Mountain.
No. 5 – The McParty. The Nevada Republican Party has been, is and will be a joke for the foreseeable future. I wonder how the RNC feels about funneling so much money into this crucible of ineptitude.
Extra-party Republicans have done a passable job of trying to imitate how Reid ran the state Democratic Party, focusing on voter registration and turnout. They are no match for the Democrats for institutional and staffing reasons. But that part they have done as well as they can.
But the party apparatus continues to be led by a figurehead, Michael McDonald, who keeps getting re-elected by the seal-like faithful and who has used his position to try to obtain a six-figure state sinecure and to create a slush fund for his personal use.
The GOP here has been creamed in two successive cycles, losing the presidential race, legislative control, a U.S. senator and the governorship. The Democrats will oversee the redrawing of lines in 2021, too, perhaps consigning the GOP here to irrelevancy for a decade.
Congratulations, Chairman McDonald: You helped turn Nevada blue for a long time to come.
Most CEOs would resign or be ousted after the company’s performance was so disastrous. McDonald will probably stick around for the 2020 cycle and the junket to the national convention, where, perhaps, this time he will not declare that Las Vegas is the state capital on international television.
No. 6 – Can’t wait for the 2019 session. As the gnashing of elephant teeth begins and we are told Nevada is about to become California with its high taxes and regulatory regimes but without the beautiful beaches and scenic PCH drives, the Democratic capital hegemony may not be what it seems. You see, not all Democrats are the same.
Gov.-elect Sisolak is not a liberal. He is in the mold of other governors of both parties since 1982, with Jim Gibbons the only exception: A pragmatic moderate.
I think Sisolak is a little more mercurial than the others. But he is not simply going to offer the Gang of 63 a blank check and promise to cash it.
And within the Democratic ranks, you have very different lawmakers and priorities. Speaker Jason Frierson and Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson are far from the same and have different agendas. Pat Spearman is not Nicole Cannizzaro, and Teresa Benitez-Thompson is not Steve Yeager.
Despite one-party control, I think this is going to be a very unpredictable session. And I know just where you can read all about it….
No. 7 – The Year of the Woman. I am not a huge fan of identity politics, but this identity cannot be denied. Majority female congressional delegation, including both senators. Majority female state Supreme Court. Majority female Assembly (and maybe state Senate). Half the constitutional officers are female.
The question is whether it means anything, changes anything. The first sign was ominous: With a majority of females in the Senate Democratic Caucus, and a few qualified to lead, they chose a man (Kelvin Atkinson) as their leader because he was first in line. A woman’s place is in the kitchen Cabinet, but not at the helm?
Let’s see if other women are chosen to populate key roles, such as Sisolak’s chief of staff and state agency departments. Let’s see if women get appointed to replace Tick Segerblom and Aaron Ford in the state Senate, which would make nine of 13 Democratic senators female. And let’s see if they can make a difference or be just as disappointing as the men so often are.
Then I’ll tell you if the Year of the Woman meant something beyond the label.
No. 8 – Snub the media at your own peril. I know this will seem self-serving, but bear with me. Laxalt, Heller and Roberson thought it was smart strategy to avoid the media (not just us) and even, in a mimic of Trump, attack journalists.
They all lost.
I am not suggesting correlation is causation. But the coward’s way out rarely is helpful to the…cause.
Ask yourself this: If a candidate is confident in his or her abilities, why run away from a journalist even if you consider him or her to be hostile? The fact is most candidates who dodge the media are either lost without their scripts or handlers or simply afraid they will make a mistake – you know, like tell the truth.
It almost never works.
No. 9 – The karma of the recalls. Remember them? They were planned by Roberson, who pretended they were organically driven by regular folks.
They were fronted by losers of elections desperately seeking a way back in – Stephen Silberkraus and Carrie Buck, to name two. And they were financed by GOP forces and handled by GOP consultants who knew they couldn’t win the races fair and square at a regular election.
They were pernicious, expensive and destructive. They were decried by almost no one, including all of the incumbent GOP senators except newly elected Ira Hansen.
And now all of those associated with them are gone and, we should all hope, never to return.
No. 10 — Do not trust public polls of Nevada; trust me. The Real Clear Politics average showed Heller opening up a lead in late October and the final average showed a tie. (Emerson’s final poll showed Rosen with a 4-point lead, which was very close; but the same pollster had Heller with a 7-point lead in mid-October – anyone think there was an 11-point swing?)
Early voting data remains remarkably predictive here. I foretold the red wave early in 2014 and the Democratic domination before Election Day in 2016.
Knowing which private polls to rely on helps, too.
This cycle, I predicted the outcome of the top two races, the two congressional contests and all of the ballot question outcomes. I also said the Democrats would win most of the down-ballot constitutional offices and asserted that there would be 13 Democratic state Senate seats (correct) and 26 Democratic Assembly seats (they got 29).
I point this out not just to boast of my oracular powers (smiles off-camera). But everyone should just remember going forward: Public polling in Nevada is garbage; trust the data.
Jon Ralston is the editor of The Nevada Independent. He has been covering Nevada politics for more than 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @ralstonreports