Friday, August 26, 2016

Race of the Day- Nevada U.S. Senate

73 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

It may take days, after the election, before it is known for sure who has won Nevada's open Senate race, and the balance of power of the entire Senate may ride on it as well. This is pretty much the only good opportunity for Republicans to win a seat held by Democrats and if the GOP does manage a pick-up, it will be tremendously satisfying.

Republicans expected to win this seat back in 2010, but GOP primary voters selected a right-wing nominee, who proved to be disastrous on the campaign trail, and incumbent Harry Reid, despite being quite unpopular in polls, won another term and returned as Senate Democrat Leader and his party barely hung on to a majority at the time. On the same night, Reid's son lost in a landslide for Governor, but it might have hardly mattered, as he put so much effort into his own election and won against tall odds.

The GOP was hopeful that a stronger nominee could beat him in 2016, but received some bad news when newly reelected Governor Brian Sandoval, a very popular figure, announced that he still had no interest in running for Senate. By this time, Reid was Minority Leader, but was laying the groundwork for another reelection campaign. His favorability rating at home was still pretty low though, he received negative press for saying some incredibly incendiary things about Republicans,  and there was a somewhat mysterious accident at his home involving a piece of exercise equipment. All sorts of rumors developed as to what might have actually happened, but Reid did suffer serious facial injuries and the loss of sight in one eye. In late March, Reid surprised many when he released a video stating he would not seek reelection.

Republicans were immediately bullish on their chances of winning Reid's seat but the political organization that the longtime Democrat institution of the state has put together is not to be underestimated. Reid moved quickly to anoint Catherine Cortez Masto, the recently term-limited former Attorney General of Nevada as his successor. She would likely become the nation's first Latina U.S. Senator if victorious this year.

Lots of Republicans were talked about as contenders, but party leaders were quick to rally around Congressman Joe Heck from the Nevada suburbs. (If he wins, he would join a Republican colleague in making up a Heller and Heck Nevada Senate delegation.) Three times elected to a very politically competitive district, Heck is a New York City born physician who moved to fast growing Nevada in 1992. He is also a Brigadier General and served in the most recent Iraq War.

The race between Masto and Heck looked like it would be extremely competitive from the start, but first Heck had to deal with the June Republican primary. Ultimately, he won easily, but he did have to get past former State Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, the Tea Party heroine whose inept campaign was responsible for Reid winning another term six years earlier. She lost to Heck by more than 40 points however.

Polls throughout the past year plus have consistently shown a very close race, but most have shown Heck with at least a slight lead. Despite not having ever held statewide office, he might be more well known than the ex-Attorney General. A recent Rasmussen Reports tracking poll shows a post GOP convention nine point Heck lead down to just one point after the Democrats held their convention.

Nevada is a state where Hispanics and union workers hold a lot of political influence and has caused Democrats to win several federal races, including Presidential contests, over the past few cycles. Republicans have dominated Gubernatorial elections for many years though and the state has had at least one GOP Senator this century. While most battleground state polls show Hillary Clinton solidly ahead of Donald Trump in most of those states, the results are a little closer in Nevada than what may be expected. Few expect that Trump will actually capture the electoral votes of the Silver State, but despite horrible numbers with Hispanics, he seems to have more pockets of strength there than elsewhere. It has been remarked that he could be doing better there than in other states because of Nevada's higher numbers of non-college graduates and downscale working class voters. That could mean that he has the potential of winning votes that Mitt Romney did not get, but I think that remains to be seen. Nevada is the state though, where after Trump's surprisingly big caucus win, he talked about how much he loved the "poorly educated." General apathy and disillusionment about politics tends to be more apparent in Nevada, where many are new to the state and might not be as civicly involved or tied to religious institutions.

So, basically all of this is worth taking into consideration as to how the Presidential race might effect this highly important Senate contest. Masto and the Democrats are doing their best to tie Heck negatively to Trump, saying they are "ideological soul mates", even though fact checkers have shown that to be false and point to many examples where Heck has taken different positions than Trump. Still though, Heck has not gone out of his way to be too critical of Trump, with a likely motive of not wanting to alienate his supporters who might not be traditional Republicans. It would be very advantageous for Heck to have Governor Sandoval, a popular Hispanic Republican, who has not endorsed Trump, to campaign for him.

This is a race that can easily go either way. Las Vegas will go heavily for Masto of course while the rural areas of Nevada will be reliably Republican. As most statewide races go, the contest will be decided in the Clark County suburbs, where Heck has won some heavily targeted Congressional races in recent years. If things are very bad for Republicans in Senate races nationally, it is certainly feasible that Masto keeps this seat for the Democrats. I wonder though why the polls have not been more favorable for her at this point, and right now, the evidence seems to suggest that Heck is in better position to get ticket-splitting votes and might have an extremely slight advantage.

Heck campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far:
6 D (4 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans)
14 R (4 Safe, 5 Likely, 3 Leans, 2 Tossup)

Overall predicted thus far: 42 D, 44 R


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