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Senate, House seats up for grabs as Nevada starts early voting

GOP focused on inflation as dust storm darkens Democratic effort

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., speaks with constituents at the Broadacres Marketplace in North Las Vegas on Saturday.
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., speaks with constituents at the Broadacres Marketplace in North Las Vegas on Saturday. (Photos by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. — What happens here certainly will not stay here, at least when it comes to the outcome of key congressional elections in Nevada.

The Silver State is of particular interest because it features a toss-up race for the Senate between Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general. Three of the state’s four House seats also could, in a Republican wave election, move from the Democrats to the Republicans. (The fourth seat, in northern Nevada, is safely Republican.)

As in other races around the country on one of the campaign’s final weekends, Republicans were boasting of a red wave building and blaming economic woes on President Joe Biden and his allies on Capitol Hill. Democrats were counting on voters remembering what they did to help the country get through the worst of the pandemic.

But Nevada’s early voting kickoff Saturday had an unexpected complication: dust.

High winds and an ensuing dust storm, which forced the cancellation of the first day of the When We Were Young music festival in Las Vegas, also complicated the first day of early voting and likely depressed turnout, although The Nevada Independent noted there were several factors at play.

Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford, who is seeking reelection in the sprawling 4th District — which has its population center in and around North Las Vegas but covers a huge portion of the state — was out greeting voters Saturday at the Broadacres Marketplace, a flea market here with a predominantly Latino clientele.

The shoppers and vendors were not all from his district, much less from Nevada. At one point Horsford could be heard putting in a plug for Arizona Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton while speaking in the venue’s food hall to people from Arizona and Oregon.

Horsford said that while his constituents were certainly feeling the pinch of cost inflation, he believes they also were supportive of actions Democrats took to provide federal support during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m not the message expert. I’m just not. What I know is — is my district, and the people in it. And what I know is, they … were very grateful for the passage of the American Rescue Plan. They were, they were, thankful here in Nevada, where we had almost 30 percent unemployment, that people were able to have a bridge with unemployment benefits to keep their families afloat,” Horsford said. “I know that families here cared about the child tax credit and  … the advance payment of $300 every month, because that’s what they used to pay for food and to put gas in the car. And that is what they give President Biden and Democrats credit for.”

Republican candidates have focused on inflation, with Laxalt in particular working to tie his incumbent opponent to Biden, often noting disparagingly that the president has not stopped in Nevada on his preelection campaign schedule.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt and Republican congressional candidate April Becker arrive for Laxalt’s early voting kickoff rally in Summerlin, Nev., on Saturday.

“So you all know, we are in the midst of a red wave. Don’t buy anything you’re seeing, don’t buy anything you’re reading. I’m in every part of this state. And people are as upset as they’ve ever been,” Laxalt said Saturday at a Republican early voting kickoff rally.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for Horsford’s seat Lean Democratic, while his fellow incumbents Dina Titus and Susie Lee, in the 1st and 3rd districts, are in tighter races rated Tilt Democratic.

A recent Suffolk University/USA Today Network survey found Cortez Masto leading Laxalt by only 2 percentage points. A polling average maintained by FiveThirtyEight.com had Laxalt ahead by 0.4 points.

Cortez Masto, Gov. Steve Sisolak and House candidates were out in force throughout the weekend at events coordinated through Nevada Democratic Victory, which is in essence the political apparatus of the late Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. Many events focused on constituent groups that may be critical to a winning Democratic coalition, including the Latino and Asian American Pacific Islander communities.

But a block party with a mariachi band for a community of largely Latino voters, planned for outside the East Las Vegas Library — a site for early in-person voting — had to be moved to a covered structure at a nearby restaurant because of the Saturday afternoon dust storm.

Republicans, meanwhile, were out meeting voters through the weekend as well. Laxalt headlined an early voting kickoff event in Summerlin on Saturday morning with members of the GOP ticket including gubernatorial candidate Joe Lombardo and April Becker, who is challenging Lee in the 3rd District.

The Lee-Becker race will be a clear test of Laxalt’s claim of a coming GOP wave. While Biden barely carried the district by 0.2 points and Lee won by just over 1 point in 2020, redistricting added Democratic voters — largely from what had been Titus’ deep blue 1st District. Under the new lines, Lee would have won by 6 points.

In the seven days ending Oct. 17 alone, nearly $3.8 million was spent by party committees and super PACs on the Lee-Becker race, with roughly $2.7 million spent by groups aligned with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and $1.1 million by those aligned with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to tracking by Daily Kos Elections. The outlays this late in the cycle mean both parties consider the seat in play.

Becker said she expects $35 million to be spent in the race overall and that she has had significant encouragement from incumbent Republicans who tell her she will be one of their majority makers. Republicans need a net gain of five seats for House control, and just one for Senate control.

“If I drive somewhere, I look at my phone afterwards. I’ve got 20 text messages, and there are people I’ve never spoken to before, and they’re just excited because they know what’s happening, and it’s just so much momentum and excitement here in Nevada,” Becker said in an interview.

All three of the Republican House challengers face the reality that their districts are still favorable to Democrats, with redistricting helping Horsford and Lee but making Titus’ seat more competitive. Still, ratings for each of the seats have moved toward the GOP since the map was set last year.

Mark Robertson, Republican candidate for Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, delivers campaign yard signs to a supporter’s house in Henderson, Nev., on Friday.

Mark Robertson, the retired Army colonel running against Titus, let CQ Roll Call join him in his pickup truck between stops to drop off and install lawn signs in a retiree-dominated community that was added to the Titus district.

He spoke highly of the support he’s received from the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McCarthy, R-Calif. In the week ending Oct. 17, the two groups spent $3.5 million on the 1st District race, while their Democratic counterparts spent $2.7 million.

But Robertson also seemed to understand that if he were to be elected as part of a red wave, he would need to demonstrate a degree of independence to endure in Congress.

“I’ve had candid conversations with Republican leadership that I will be loyal to the Constitution and to the people of Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, not to party, not to party leadership, not to any individual,” he said. “It’s also what will encourage the people in my district to continue to return me to Congress every two years.”

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