Democrats brace for another Senate nail-biter in Nevada

After narrowly deciding who would control Nevada’s upper chamber during the midterms, Democrats are now gearing up to fight for another Nevada Senate race.

The Democrats managed to retain Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) by less than one point last year but lost the governor’s seat after Joe Lombardo, former Clark County Sheriff, defeated incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak (D).

Republicans claim that the state’s changing demographics and electorate make it more friendly to the GOP, especially in the Senate where incumbent Senator Jacky Rosen (D.Nev.), is up for reelection in 2024.

“She’s extremely fragile,” stated Jeremy Hughes, a GOP strategist who worked on a variety of Nevada races. “An incumbent in their initial reelection is always a winner.”

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Senate Republicans are already targeting Rosen and other vulnerable Democrats ahead of 2024. A national Republican Senatorial Committee campaign targeted Rosen and five other incumbent Democrats in relation to Medicare and Social Security.

According to a poll by Nevada Independent and OH Predictive Insights, Rosen received a 37% favorability rating and a 40% unfavorable rating in a recent poll. The race is rated “lean Democratic” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Rosen was part of the blue wave of Democrats that won their midterm elections in 2018, when Sen. Dean Heller (R. Nevada) defeated her by 5 points.

The Democrats had a very good 2018, with some notable exceptions in Nevada. 2016 saw Hillary Clinton win the state by 2.4 percentage points while Cortez Masto won the Senate race by the same margin.

Democrats have faced narrower margins in recent years. By approximately 2.4 points, President Biden defeated Trump in 2020. Lombardo defeated Sisolak just 1.5 points two years later. Former Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican Senate candidate, lost to Cortez Mazzo by less than one point.

There are many factors that contribute to Nevada’s shrinking margins, including changing demographics. According to the Census Bureau, Latino voters account for approximately 30 percent of Nevada’s population. Asians account for about 9 percent and Pacific Islanders nearly 1 percent.

“The data we’re seeing about support levels from Latinos shows that Catherine Cortez Masto tracked almost exactly the same support levels as President Biden in 2020,” Melissa Morales, founder and executive director at Somos Votantes (a Democratic-leaning group that aims to engage Latino voters), said Melissa Morales.

These groups were won by Democrats in 2022. However, Republicans continue to target these populations going into 2024. Nearly 40 community centers had been opened by the Republican National Committee in Black, Latino, and Asian Pacific Islander communities as of September 2017.

Democrats should be aware of the Republicans’ continued strategy going into the next cycle.

One Nevada Democratic operative said that they are constantly trying to reach those demographics. It’s a concerted effort every year.

Added to that, the state’s growing and transient population adds to Democratic anxiety about these groups.

David Damore, who is the head of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ Political Science Department, stated that “they’re beginning to see that as these communities grow and become more involved in politics, they’re going to see fewer monolithic voting.”

Damore warned that Republicans have not made enough progress with these groups in order to swing them in general elections.

He said that “Republicans have done a better job and moved things a bit here, but not enough for the margins they need.” They need to get the 60 percent, and they aren’t there yet.

Rosen could be affected by the state’s transient nature. Critics say Rosen lacks a political identity. This could be partly due to newcomers to Nevada politics.

The Democratic Nevada operative stated that “It’s a state in which candidates must consistently present themselves to their constituents.” “That’s part and parcel of running for office in Nevada.”

Republicans also want to tie Rosen to President Biden due to his low approval ratings. According to the same Nevada Independent/OH Predictive Insights poll, Biden had a 40% approval rating and a 55% disapproval rating.

Biden was in Las Vegas Tuesday to attend a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee and announce a plan that will lower prescription drug prices at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

According to the Nevada Democratic operative, Rosen would be able to use kitchen table issues like lower prescription drug prices as part of his messaging. The operative also stated that Democrats like Rosen will likely take the offense regarding abortion access.

The operative stated that the threat of a nationwide ban on abortion is very real if Republicans win in 2024. This refers to the scenario where the GOP wins the House, Senate, and White House.

There is the possibility that Trump’s past presidency could have an impact on the race, if he wins next year’s GOP nomination. According to the Nevada Independent/OH Predictive Insights poll, Trump received 42 percent of support.

“If Trump were to become our nominee, then it would be a vote to discredit Trump. It was not that Joe Biden was a wonderful politician everyone was excited about, kind of like the first time around. It was because of Trump,” Amy Tarkanian, ex-chair of the Nevada GOP, said.

The Republican bench to challenge Rosen, however, is still in the early stages. Several Nevada Republicans have been considered to challenge the incumbent Democrat. This includes Sam Brown (an Army veteran who was defeated by Laxalt in 2022). April Becker, a former congressional candidate who lost her challenge to Democratic Rep. Susie Lee (D–Nev.) has also been mentioned. Republicans also pointed to Sen. Heidi Seevers Gansert (R) is the Minority Leader. Joey Gilbert, a retired boxer and lawyer, was also defeated in last year’s GOP gubernatorial primary.

However, many of these candidates, except Gansert have lost their state elections recently.

Tarkanian stated that if we look at other candidates who failed this election, and they are going to try to run for the U.S. Senate seat, I don’t see how that’s going to work out for us.

According to the Nevada Independent/OH Predictive Insights survey, Rosen was rated higher than most of the other GOP challengers (including Brown who received a 25% favorability rating and Becker who received a 25% favorability rating).