Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Nevada

This is the thing that bothers me about the this idea of pre-clearance under the Voter’s Rights Act and all that. Well, actually three things bother me about it. First, this law was enacted in 1965 during a very different time in our history. I am not saying that racial prejudice or racism in general has been eradicated. However, the government has basically tried and found guilty certain states because of the sins of their past. Second, by virtue of not being one of those states or even regions within certain states, one is free to gerrymander as one sees fit with minimal court interference (see Illinois) with an “oh well” attitude. Is there really a great practical difference between gerrymandering in the name of alleged racial equality and gerrymandering for political aims? Third, and this pertains to the discussion of Nevada, no matter what it does, it will piss someone off when it comes to redistricting. And the courts are more than eager to inject themselves into the controversies as they did in Texas and Nevada in the name of today’s supposedly disenfranchised voter- Hispanics. And when something is done, it is usually damned either way.
For example, Nevada gains a seat in the House after the 2010 Census. Most of that population growth occurred in the metropolitan Las Vegas area and most of the growth is attributable to an increase in the Hispanic population. Where this “do no right” conundrum comes in is as follows: Of one draws a district that is minority-majority, one is accused of concentrating all the minority population of a state in a single district, ceding it (if you are Republican), and strengthening your remaining districts. This, we are told, is racist and wrong and weakens the voting power of the minorities. Conversely, if one spreads the minority population over two or more districts, then you are accused of weakening minority voting power by diffusing their votes over several districts. But here is the problem: those who draw the district maps cannot tell minorities to spread themselves out. They tend to cluster in metropolitan areas. As a result, in the interest of this racial diversity in redistricting, in many instances one has towns being split into sections in order to incorporate their minority population. And that was and is the problem in Nevada. Seeking neither a minority-majority district nor the “spreading” of the Hispanic population, the courts intervened and drew the maps.
There are two ways for the GOP to combat this problem. We can continue to use the courts or the court of public opinion and stress the philosophical case of color blindness with the realization that color blindness may appear “racist” at times and unfortunately that is a quirk of population shifts. Secondly, the better and longer lasting solution is to recruit and cultivate Hispanic Republican candidates. I have repeatedly stated and argued that, generally speaking, Hispanics are by nature basically a conservative people. Somewhere along the line, we lost the ears of the Hispanic community. I am certainly not saying the GOP should bow down at the altar of the Hispanic community and adopt the agenda of their more radical elements. But, extremism on either side serves no purpose.
Before discussing the Congressional races, there is a Senate race to be won. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval appointed Dean Heller, who represented the 2nd District, to finish the term of John Ensign who resigned amidst scandal. That left the 2nd District open necessitating a special election which was won by Republican Amodei. The appointment of Heller was a logical choice since his replacement in the Second would likely be Republican, as the special election proved. However, he faces re-election in 2012 for a full term and should face stiff competition from Shelley Berkley who is vacating her House seat in the 1st District. Polling thus part has this race as a draw. A lot of attention and money will be spent on this case as Democrats view this as one instance where they can pick up a Senate seat. However, before Democrats start dancing in the aisles, incumbency has its advantages and that belongs to Heller. But, like Missouri, Nevadans seem to prefer to split their Senate choices and since the other Senator is Harry Reid, a Democrat, the edge again goes to Heller. He will also receive the backing of a fairly popular and Hispanic Governor in Brian Sandoval. Obama’s policie and popularity have taken a hit in Nevada and if Heller can paint Berkley as being in step with them, he improves his chances further. It will be interesting to see what Obama’s numbers are later in the year in Nevada and whether Berkley will embrace or distance herself from him.

As mentioned earlier, Berkley leaves the First District open. This is a safely Democratic district having voted for Obama with over 61% in 2008. Simply, Republicans will offer token opposition. Instead, the real drama will be in the Democratic primary. Dana Titus, who lost to Joe Heck by a single point in 2010 in the swing 3rd, will now run in the 1st to replace Berkley. However, she has possible opposition in Barbara Buckley especially since her Spring Valley base has been drawn into that district. However, and this seems strange, she may be too liberal for the district and thus alienate voters. Buckley previously intended to run for Governor until Rory Reid decided to run and lost. Another Democratic candidate is state senator Ruben Kihuen.
In the 2nd, which was vacated by Heller, Mark Amodei won the special election in 2011. He is the former state GOP chair. In 2008, Heller had won the district despite its nominal 51-49 split for Obama. This same district supported Sharron Angle over Harry Reid 53-47. This indicates a lean towards Republicans. There are some rumors that Angle may challenge Amodei in a 2012 primary. Amodei, or Angle, would win this district, but the changing face due to redistricting indicates that this may flip by 2016 to the Democrats. Possible Democratic opposition is state senator Sheila Leslie who hails from Reno. A more local and popular choice may be Reno council member Jessica Sferazza. If it comes down to a battle between them and Angle sits this one out, all the better for Amodei.
Nevada’s 3rd is represented by Republican Joe Heck who defeated Titus in 2010. A rematch with her is out of the question as she runs now in the 1st. There are two Democratic possibilities- businessman James Haning and Jose Oceguera. Under some proposals, Oceguera, the young and upcoming Hispanic speaker of the assembly,would have to face another upcoming Democrat in Steven Horsford. That would have created an interesting tension- a Hispanic versus a black. However, that was averted as Oceguera decided to run in the 3rd and Horsford will run in the new 4th. This will be a close race and I do not believe Heck will overcome the new demographic reality here and will lose his seat.
That leaves the new 4th. Here, the aforementioned Horsford is running for the Democrats but may find primary opposition from Rory Reid. Expect the elder Reid to stump for his son. This sets up an interesting dynamic since Harry Reid fancies himself a champion of union members while Horsford has intimate ties to the 60,000 member culinary union. This battle may allow a chance for a Republican to sneak in. That would be state senator Barbara Cegavske, businessman Dan Schwartz, or even Danny Tarrkanian. If he enters the race, all bets are off and Tarkanian would win the district against either Reid or Horsford, I believe. Since there are too many unsettled issues here, one has to reserve judgment until the field is set. Reid loses in any scenario, Horsford wins against anyone but Tarkanian, and Tarkanian wins against anyone.
For their six electoral votes, Obama will spend lots of time and money trying to win the state and he can not afford to lose this state. Obama’s popularity in Nevada stands at a precarious 44% which is low considering his margin of victory in 2008. Harry Reid will come out in favor of Obama, but Reid is not exactly the most popular figure in Nevada politics. He will help to mobilize the union machine unless he alienates them in support of his son, if he decides to run. A winning strategy to defeat Obama in 2012 will be to (1) stress that the economy in Nevada under Obama has stagnated, if not declined, (2) Obama and Reid are one and the same- you lost your chance to get rid of Reid in 2010 so don’t make the same mistake twice, (3) without outright pandering, appeal to the conservative inclinations of Nevada’s Hispanics, (4) without union bashing, let it be known that unions are not the only path to success, but education is equally important and the GOP has better, longer lasting, and cheaper reform ideas, and (5) a well-coordinated ground game that counters the unions and gets out the conservative vote, especially in the “cow counties” north of Reno. Going on a limb, I believe the GOP will win a close victory in Nevada.

Running count thus far:
Obama 23 electoral votes/ GOP 25;
No change in the Senate;
Net gain 2 Governors
Net gain of 2 House seats.

Next: California