WASHINGTON – Three competitive races in Southern Nevada are key to control of Congress.
Republican leaders are looking at the Nevada seats as a potential windfall, and Democrats admit they face stiff headwinds but are counting on support from unions and the experience of three tested incumbents to keep Nevada blue.
Still, Nevada’s three representatives, Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, are considered to be “up for grabs” on the political landscape that in 2022 will favor Republicans.
“We know it’s going to be hard work,” said Titus, the dean of the state’s congressional delegation.
Titus represented the 3rd Congressional District 3 from 2008 to 2010, but lost the seat. She returned in the 1st District in 2012, and has held the seat ever since. But the Democrat-controlled Legislature redrew district lines following the 2020 Census, which moved the conservative enclaves of Henderson and Boulder City into her previously ultra-safe seat.
Retired Army Col. Mark Robertson, a 30-year veteran, Henderson business owner and political neophyte, emerged from a GOP field of eight to challenge Titus in the November general election.
“Dina Titus is going to have the first really competitive race in front of her in quite a long time,’’ said Ken Miller, a UNLV political science professor. “Mark Robertson is probably a very capable candidate, but he’s new on the campaign trail, so we’re not sure how that’s going to go.”
Real estate lawyer April Becker has the backing of Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in her bid to flip the 3rd Congressional District seat held by Rep. Susie Lee. The 2021 redistricting was designed to protect the two-term incumbent. And in the sprawling district that includes North Las Vegas, Rep. Steven Horsford is fending off Air Force veteran Sam Peters, who was endorsed by Freedom Caucus members that include Rep. Andy Biggs and Rep. Paul Gosar, both R-Ariz.
Only Republican Rep. Mark Amodei of Carson City is expected to glide to re-election in the heavily Republican Congressional District 2 in Northern Nevada.
Just five seats
Republicans need just five seats to change hands to win back control of the House, and many experts are predicting a red wave. Pocketbook issues like inflation and the rising cost of fuel have emerged as top issues in the midterm elections. President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, as well as historical trends that favor the party without the White House, bode ill for Democrats.
“It’s very favorable conditions for Republicans right now. You don’t want to be the party in power when inflation is high,” Miller said.
Although redistricting shored up two of the districts by moving more favorable precincts out of the formerly strong Democrat-leaning Congressional District 1, the changes may not withstand the voter sentiment fueled by economic anxiety.
“I think all of those races are up for grabs,” Miller said. “It’s a bad year to be an incumbent.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he expects all of the Southern Nevada incumbents to prevail, but acknowledged the economic climate.
The Democrats are emphasizing passing coronavirus relief packages in Congress that kept businesses open and people employed during and after the pandemic, as well as gun control measures following mass shootings and their support for women’s reproductive rights in light of the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.
But issues aside, strategists and analysts agree voter turnout will be key.
Hopes pinned on Becker
Establishment Republicans are most enthusiastic about Becker’s chances to win in Congressional District 3, which has been the true “swing” district in the state. She handily defeated four challengers in her primary to collect an impressive 65 percent of the vote.
“Nevada is a key battleground in the path to taking back the House” said Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., “I look forward to helping April flip this seat.”
Lee touts her bipartisan credentials with the Problem Solvers Caucus, which helped craft the infrastructure bill that will bring $4 billion in federal spending to Nevada, and bringing pandemic aid to the city when COVID hit the tourism industry hard.
“There have been many small businesses that I have walked into and where they have thanked me,” Lee said.
She said she understands the public frustration with rising costs and the lingering effects of the pandemic. “People are frustrated,” she said.
Becker, who narrowly lost a state Senate race in 2020, called Lee “out-of-touch” with residents suffering economic hardships that Becker said were the result of Democratic policies.
Both candidates have been in general election mode since before the primaries made the matchup official, said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of the nonpartisan Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.
“This, to me, seems like the likeliest seat to flip – I’m sure groups on both sides will be investing heavily,” Coleman said.
“Susie Lee has shown she can win tough races,” he noted. “Redistricting will help her a little bit, but with these headwinds and a capable opponent, that cancels that out.”
Fighting for another term
In neighboring Congressional District 4, Horsford was got new Democratic voters, mostly in the Clark County portion of his rural-urban district. But Horsford, like Titus, knows what it’s like to lose, falling to former Congressman Cresent Hardy in the “red tide” of 2014. Voter turnout was “the worst ever” for a midterm in Nevada, he said. He returned to the seat in 2018 and won re-election in 2020.
In this cycle, Horsford is banking on support from the Culinary Union and legislation to help families cope with the economic fallout of coronavirus.
“I don’t care about the politics,” Horsford said. “The people are going to determine the outcome in November.”
The race features the most stark choice in candidates.
Peters, a combat veteran, is considered the most strident conservative of the Republican candidates for Congress, which may help in more rural, and conservative areas of the district, which still has a Democratic advantage, Coleman said.
An ardent supporter of Donald Trump, Peters echoes the former president on issues that include increased border security, scaling back Obamacare and election fraud.
Peters claims that Washington insiders have already “planned how they will destroy my reputation and lie about my position on issues.”
While the district leans blue, and Horsford has a $3 million war chest, the outcome of the race could be decided by the strength or weakness of the Democratic ground game in Clark County, Coleman said.
Contact Gary Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.