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Inflation, Housing Concerns Could Swing Nevada to Republicans in November

June 14, 2024 5:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Jacki Swearingen and Susan Okie

Edited by Marilyn Go, Jim Harbison and Ryan O’Connell

Nevada, which helped deliver victory to Biden in 2020, now appears close to slipping from the Democrats’ grasp in the November election. The economic woes of the last several years – inflation, higher interest rates, limited housing stock – have contributed to a deep disenchantment among voters in a state where Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 2.4 points four years ago. Democrats hope their traditional success with Latino voters and their formidable “Get out the vote” machine can secure the state’s six electoral votes once again, while Republicans point to the widespread discontent as a sign that they will prevail in the fall.

Nevada voters will also make crucial choices about abortion rights and a US Senate race that could decide the control of the Senate. Legislative races will determine whether the Democrats in the state assembly and senate secure a veto-proof majority. All these far-reaching decisions by Nevadans will occur in a state where efforts at making it harder to cast a ballot as well as challenges to election results have grown since 2020.


The Polls That Stoke Anxiety and Hope

A spate of recent state polls has increased Democratic anxiety. Results from the Emerson College Polling/The Hill survey released on April 30 gave Trump a 45% to 44% lead over Biden in a head-to-head match-up in Nevada, with 11% of voters undecided. More worrisome for Democrats was the May 15 New York Times/Siena Poll in which Trump led Biden by 12 points among registered Nevada voters. Concerns about the economy and inflation ranked at the top for Nevada voters. Sixty one percent trusted Trump to manage the economy better; only 32% preferred Biden to handle it.

“The state has been slowly shifting to the right – not just in polling but in Election Day results,” wrote John Ralston, the esteemed observer of Nevada politics last year in The Atlantic. Ralston added, “In 2020 Nevada was the only battleground state that saw worse Democratic performance compared with 2016, unless you count the more solidly red Florida.” In 2022 Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto won re-election to the US Senate by a mere 9,000 votes.

Five months from Election Day, long-time political observers caution that it is still too early to make firm predictions. Strategists on both sides would be wise to heed Ralston’s warnings about the difficulties of polling in the Silver State. Ralston points out that pollsters often underestimate the number of people they need to survey to get a representative sampling. In addition, pollsters often lack enough bilingual interviewers for a state whose population is one-third Latino.

Demographics and the Latino Vote

Most political experts agree that demographics and voter turnout in one of the nation’s fastest- growing states will play key roles in the election’s outcome.  Among Nevada’s more than 3,100,000 residents, about 46% are white and non-Hispanic and about 30% are Hispanic. Nevada’s Black population is about 11% percent and its Asian population is 9.4 percent. Native Americans make up 5.1 percent of its population. The average age for a resident is 38 years.

In recent elections Democrats have counted on strong support from Nevada’s Latino voters to lift them to victory. In 2020 about sixty percent of Latino voters cast their ballots for Biden. In 2022 a nearly identical percentage backed Sen. Cortez-Masto. However, recent polls suggest that this traditional support is eroding, particularly because of Latinos’ frustration with economic problems. Among Latino voters in Nevada polled recently in the NYT/Siena Poll, Trump led Biden by nine points.

Economic Issues Trouble Voters

For both parties, the economic issues that affect individual voters and their families – the cost of groceries, gasoline, mortgages and rent – cannot be ignored by simply touting GDP increases. Nevada’s unemployment rate of 5.1 percent is down significantly from its high of 30.6 percent during the early days of the pandemic, but it remains the highest in the nation. Gas prices hover at $4.80 per gallon, the country’s third highest, even though they have dropped nearly $2 since mid-2022. And in the nation’s worst housing crisis, home prices since 2011 have jumped six times higher than wage increases.

In Clark County, where 73 percent of the population live in or around Las Vegas, the median household income is $5,000 less than the national average. The poverty rate is almost two percent higher. Most adults work long hours for low wages in the casinos, hotels and service industries that shore up Las Vegas, the principal city. Only 26 percent of residents hold a bachelor’s degree. All these factors have helped the GOP to make inroads, particularly with voters who lack a college or high school degree.

Faced with weak poll numbers, President Joe Biden’s strategy is to point to his administration’s economic successes like job growth and affordable housing initiatives. During his time in office Nevada has gained 285,000 jobs. Biden’s 2021 American Rescue Plan provided $1 billion for affordable housing units nationwide, which his 2025 Budget would build upon with $285 million for initiatives like building new units and increasing rental assistance.

On his recent trips to Nevada, Biden touted the $3 billion allocated in the Infrastructure Bill for the Brightline Rail, the nation’s first high-speed rail, which will connect Las Vegas and Southern California. Groundbreaking for the $12 billion project, which is projected to create more than 35,000 jobs, was April 22.

In contrast, Republicans hone in on the high costs of inflation, particularly for the working poor. They echo Trump’s belief that sharply increasing the production of fossil fuels would lower the cost of gasoline and virtually everything else. Trump’s plan to lease even more public lands for oil drilling and fracking is likely to include the Great Basin Desert in Nevada, where the Trump administration in its final months auctioned off 50 square miles and triggered environmental protests.

The Reid Machine

While Democratic strategists acknowledge the impact of economic worries and border issues on Nevada voters, they remain confident that they have a better ground game in place, particularly in the two most populous counties of Clark and Washoe, the home of Reno. In these urban centers the Reid Machine, named after the late Majority Leader of the US Senate Harry Reid, has delivered victories time after time. Since 2008 the Reid Machine has helped put Nevada in the Democratic column in presidential elections, thanks largely to its partnership with the Culinary Workers Union.

The union’s more than 60,000 members cook in the kitchens and clean the hotel rooms of the flashy hotels and casinos of Las Vegas and Reno. During campaign seasons their volunteer teams register voters and inform them about candidates and issues. When elections roll around, many volunteers spread out to knock on doors and drive voters to the polls in one of the nation’s largest turnout operations.

Biden strategists are counting on this infrastructure to energize voters, particularly in Latino communities because 54 percent of union members are Hispanic. In 2022 they played a crucial role in Cortez Masto’s Senate victory. But they failed to re-elect Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, who no doubt lost votes because of the toll the pandemic took on Nevada’s hospitality industry.

An Unpredictable Election     

Adding to the unpredictability of November election results is the large percentage of the more than two million Nevada voters registered as independents. They make up 33 percent, followed by Democrats at 31 percent, and Republican voters at 28 percent.

Moreover, the specter of past voter suppression efforts compounds the uncertainty. “Nevada has a zealous election denial movement that has been a disruptive force in the past two election cycles,” a 2023 Brennan Center study reported.

Four years ago armed vigilantes stood outside the vote-counting center in Clark County, and Republicans sued unsuccessfully to halt the counting of absentee ballots. Election deniers claimed there was mass fraud across Nevada—allegations that the Secretary of State investigated and rejected. In addition, the Trump campaign attempted to get a court order to access voting machine software, but the Nevada courts denied that request. In the 2022 Senate race some local officials tried to substitute hand-counting of ballots for machine tabulation.

In this election cycle a problem that looms is the loss of nearly one-half of the state’s top election officials because of harassment and threats. Those forms of intimidation have also driven away many election workers at individual precincts who kept voting running smoothly and accurately.

This past April Trump and the Republican National Committee announced a “100,000 person strong” initiative to target election workers in Nevada and other states.

On the other hand, some developments bode well for free and fair voting in Nevada. In 2022 Democrat Francisco “Cisco” Aguilar defeated an election denier to become the Secretary of State. And over the last two years the Nevada legislature has passed additional statutory protections against voter intimidation and safeguards for absentee ballots during signature review.

Efforts to tighten requirements for voting persist in Nevada, however. In late May the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that an initiative to amend the state constitution to require voter ID can appear on the November ballot if supporters obtain the necessary 100,000 signatures by June 26. The Supreme Court is considering another case that would tighten mail-in ballot requirements, a proposal opposed by many advocacy groups for seniors and veterans.

Abortion Rights on the Ballot

The likelihood that an abortion rights referendum will be on the November ballot in Nevada has buoyed Democratic confidence in the face of unfavorable poll numbers. The referendum places abortion rights front and center and promises to increase voter turnout. Reproductive rights advocates hope that the Nevada measure will prevail in November, as have similar initiatives in six other states.

Compared with abortion laws in other U.S. states, Nevada’s can be considered middle-of-the-road. Nevada is neither among the states most protective of reproductive rights nor among the most restrictive. Abortion is permitted until 24 weeks of pregnancy have elapsed, a point at which a fetus is considered potentially viable outside the womb. Nevada allows only physicians to perform abortions, not other trained health care professionals. A shield law protects doctors who do so from being investigated by authorities in other states. Women entering an abortion clinic are legally protected from harassment or physical harm.

As in neighboring Arizona, supporters of reproductive rights in Nevada, with funding from The Nevada Reproductive Freedom PAC, have gathered signatures in favor of an ambitious ballot referendum, The Nevada Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment.

The amendment would codify women’s right to abortion in Nevada. An opposing PAC, the Coalition for Parents and Children, is supporting conservative organizations as it seeks to keep the referendum off the ballot.

To place the measure onto the ballot, proponents of the constitutional amendment had to obtain 102,362 validated signatures of Nevada residents by June 26, 2024. In late May Nevada Reproductive Freedom submitted more than 200,000 signatures from all 17 counties to the Secretary of State for validation. If enough signatures are deemed valid, the measure will go on the November ballot. Even if enough voters support the amendment, they must approve it again in 2026 for it to go into effect.  

Other Consequential Races  

Adding to the high stakes in Nevada this election cycle is a US Senate race that the Cook Political Report rates a “toss-up.” Incumbent Jacky Rosen is a center-left Democrat who has garnered a bipartisan reputation during her six years in the Senate. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rosen has a strong following among veterans, who make up 200,000 of Nevada’s population. In the most recent NYT/Siena poll, she led her  Republican opponent, Sam Brown. However, 23 percent of voters were undecided or refused to answer.

Sam Brown, who just received Donald Trump’s endorsement, nearly won the Republican nomination for US Senator in 2022. He is a former Army Captain and Purple Heart recipient who was badly burned in 2008 by the explosion of an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Brown is seeking to appeal to independent voters, and he recently switched his position on abortion rights to support the current law, which allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Despite the closeness of the presidential race in Nevada, Democrats hope to win a super-majority in the state’s legislature. If they can hold onto their current senate seats and flip one Republican district, they will achieve a two-thirds majority in the upper house, matching the one they have in the state assembly. That would allow them to override any vetoes by Republican Gov. Joe Lombardi. The governor set a state record last year for vetoing the most bills in a single session of the Nevada Legislature.

What You Can Do

Nevada has emerged not only as a key battleground state but also as the possible determinant of which party will control the US Senate. Early voting for this critical election begins Saturday, October 19 and runs through Friday, November 1. You can play a role by registering new voters and increasing voter turnout by working with the following organizations: 

1. All Voting is Local – Nevada: All Voting is Local Nevada works to protect voting access and pro-voting policies and prevent election sabotage as well as increase language access for all urban, rural and tribal voters in the state.

2. Chicanos Por La Causa Nevada – Chicanos Por La Causa Nevada works to educate voters and to get out the Latino vote, especially among infrequent voters.

3. Nevada Native Vote Project – Nevada Native Vote Project focuses on voter registration, election protection, education and data for Native American tribes in the state, which include the Paiute and the Shoshone peoples.

4.League of Women Voters of Northern Nevada – The local branch of the national League promotes voter education and voter registration.

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