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Nevada is Expected to Matter Mightily in the Midterms

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Nevadans went to the polls on Tuesday night for the state's primary, which included arguably one of the most important races of the upcoming November midterm elections. While Decision Desk has yet to provide any numbers, Adam Laxalt, who served as the state's attorney general from 2015-2019, is largely expected to become the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate. He's facing a crowded primary, though, including from newcomer Sam Brown, an Army veteran. 

Whoever wins will challenge Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who, with 47.1 percent of the vote, managed to beat Republican Joe Heck with his 44.7 percent of the vote to replace retiring Sen. Harry Reid in 2016. Reid, a fellow Democrat, served in Senate leadership for decades, was a key supporter of Masto, as was former President Barack Obama. Reid has since passed on. 

Now, though, when Cortez Masto is up for re-election, she may not even make it to a second-term, as she is included as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in a series of lists and highlighted in such a way by numerous outlets.

This includes being first on the list of vulnerable senators from RollCall in May, as well as coverage from the Associated Press, The Washington Times, and POLITICO, emphasizing her as a "vulnerable" incumbent. 

Coverage from The Washington Times, in fact, truly singles Cortez Masto out, with Seth McLaughlin citing Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report:

“It is just a very perilous place to be,” said Jessica Taylor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “It is virtually unanimous among Democrat and Republican strategists … they think Cortez Masto is the most vulnerable Democratic senator, and that is ahead of [Sens.] Mark Kelly in Arizona and Raphael Warnock in Georgia.”

Political handicappers consider the race a “toss-up.” The outcome will go a long way in deciding the balance of power in the Senate.

On Tuesday morning, POLITICO's Playbook pointed to coverage from Blake Hounshell with The New York Times, who asked "Is Nevada Turning Red?" In his subheadline he noted that "No state was walloped harder by the economic impact of the pandemic, and voters may take out their anger on Democrats."

As Hounshell wrote on Monday:

If a red wave arrives in November, as many expect, it will likely wash ashore in landlocked Nevada, a state whose recent history of Democratic victories masks just how hard-fought those triumphs have been.

In presidential elections, Republicans have not won Nevada since 2004, when President George W. Bush carried the state narrowly over John Kerry. Races for statewide office have been more contested, but still dominated by Democrats on the whole.

This year could be different. Nevadans will cast their final ballots on Tuesday in primary elections that will decide what sorts of candidates will be carrying the G.O.P. banner in November. And as of now, it looks as if many of those Republicans might very well be elected.

Much has been written about the woes of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year. Whenever her name appears in national news coverage, it’s invariably accompanied by some version of the phrase “one of Democrats’ most endangered incumbents.”

In addition to mentioning specific races and candidates, Hounshell pointed to the state of the economy, as he  hadteased in his subheadline:

If Nevada flips to red in November, the state’s economic struggles will be a powerful reason.

Nevada’s unemployment rate surged to 28.5 percent in April 2020, just after the coronavirus pandemic throttled the tourism industry, which makes up a huge portion of the state’s economy. The unemployment rate is now 5 percent, still not quite at prepandemic levels.

Other coverage highlighted by POLITICO was "Election 2022: Nevada GOP contest crucial to Senate control," a piece from Michelle L. Price and Ken Ritter for the Associated Press. Although the piece is mostly about Laxalt and Brown, it does mention Cortez Masto's chances as well:

Though Laxalt is still considered the favorite to win, both candidates are expected to have a similar chance in November at defeating Cortez Masto, who is expected to handily win her party’s endorsement over several little-known competitors.

“I imagine that Laxalt would be a stronger candidate in the general than Brown, but I don’t think it’s a substantial difference,” said Kenneth Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. 

That’s because Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate and successor of the late Sen. Harry Reid, is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats running for reelection this year. 

Democrats broadly are facing headwinds this year, burdened by an unpopular president and rising costs. In Nevada, high prices for gas are acutely felt by residents of Las Vegas’ sprawling suburbs or those commuting from far-flung rural areas.

Prognosticators consider the race to be a toss up.

As a swing state in presidential elections, Nevada has had a pretty good track record in voting for the winning candidate, though it voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Nevada voted for President Joe Biden with just a bare majority of 50.1 percent, and voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 by 55.2 and 52.4 percent, respectively. Otherwise, no other candidate in the past six presidential elections has gotten above 50 percent. 

Republicans have already been forecasted to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, with the predictions just keep getting better It's also looking possible, likely even, that Republicans will regain control of the Senate as well. 

POLITICO's forecast for 2022 says control of the Senate leans Republican. Vox has also acknowledged that Republicans are favored to win. 

Earlier this month writing for Sabato's Crystal Ball, Alan I. Abramowitz had this to say about Republican chances, as a key point:

Based on the fundamentals of state partisanship, incumbency, and the national political environment, Republicans have a good chance to pick up at least a seat and take back control of the upper chamber. But poor candidates could hurt their chances, as they have in some other recent Senate races.

He also ties Nevada into it, with added emphasis:

...The most competitive races, with predicted margins of under 5 points, are expected to be in Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. These contests should be regarded as Toss-ups. Three other races, in North Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire, are also expected to be closely contested. Four of the 6 contests that are expected to be very competitive are currently held by Democrats (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and New Hampshire) while the other 2 (North Carolina and Pennsylvania) are currently held by Republicans. These results suggest that Republicans have a slight edge in the 2022 Senate elections when it comes to potential seat swing based on the fundamentals in these races. However, Republicans are also defending seats in Ohio and Wisconsin, in which their predicted victory margin is just over 10 points, indicating that these seats could potentially be in play.

As a matter of historic trends, Democrats are in a truly bad place considering that the president's party almost always loses seats in Congress during his first midterm election, and they have pretty narrow majorities in both chambers. Democrats are only in control of the 50-50 Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie breaking vote. 

President Joe Biden's record low poll numbers also are surely not going to help Cortez Masto's chances. According to a Civiqs poll last updated on Monday, Biden has a 32 percent approval rating in the state, while 58 percent disapprove.  

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