At first glance, Nevada should be part of Hillary Clinton’s electoral firewall. The state has the highest percentage of Hispanics of any swing state in the country (if you exclude New Mexico), Harry Reid’s political machine is alive and kicking and Obama carried the state by double-digits in 2008 and seven points in 2012. But dig a little deeper and you see a state with trends favorable to Trump and even more favorable to the GOP keeping their Senate majority.
Until 2008, Nevada was a solid swing state. Clinton carried it narrowly twice and so did Bush. But, it was in 2008 that the state exploded bright blue. Since that election though, the state has settled back into its traditional form. A mere 2 years after voting for Barack Obama by double-digits the state reversed course and elected a GOP legislature and Governor. Splitting its ticket, the state also reelected Harry Reid. Yet, 2 years later the state voted for Barack Obama and have Democrats back the legislature. But, Republican Dean Heller became the freshman Senator from the state at the same time.
More recently, despite Democrats holding a 72,000 voter registration advantage, the bottom has fallen out for the party. In 2014, Republicans gained every statewide, constitutional office in the state (defeating popular, Hispanic incumbent Democrats in the process). The party took the legislature by a narrow margin in the Senate and gained a Congressional seat that is less than 70 percent white.
This buoyed Republican hopes to compete in the state this cycle. The Senate GOP found the best candidate they could find to run for Harry Reid’s open Senate seat in Congressman Joe Heck. Heck, who has represented suburban Vegas for three terms, has name ID and a moderate persona that fits the state. But, then Donald Trump was nominated and the national party and Congressional GOP leaders started to write off the state. They shouldn’t have.
First-off. Trump has always run neck and neck with Clinton in the state (even in his worst months). Secondly, Heck has shown himself to be an incredibly resilient candidate. He has never trailed in a single poll against his Democratic opponent, Catherine Cortez Masto, whose campaign has centered around being the first Latina ever elected to the US Senate. When taking a detailed look at the state its hard to predict nature is understandable.
First-off, Nevada has the highest percentage of residents born out of state by a considerable margin (around 70 percent). This means that many of the residents to the state are transplants and carry their views and values with them. Secondly, despite the state’s high Hispanic population, it also has a massive non-college educated voting bloc.
The economic upheaval and its unique economy have also made it ripe for political swings. Because the state has a significant construction industry which is prone to the ups and downs of recessions many residents are familiar with economic uncertainty. But, at the same time, the state economy thrives on tourism and casinos. Businesses where a non-college educated individual can make a decent living.
More electorally significant, the Democratic base of the party is centered around the union and growing Hispanic vote. While union members vote the average Hispanic does not making a key bloc of the Democratic coalition a massive liability. For example, in 2014, turnout in some legislative districts dropped almost 50 percent or more compared to 2010. Meanwhile, the Republican base, despite being blue-collar is very, very likely to vote. This means Republicans do not have to invest a massive chunk of cash like Democrats do to get their partisans to the polls.
Unlike in other states and nationally, the GOP is actually investing in courting the growing Hispanic (and Asian) vote. Heck has made his support for the DREAM Act a centerpiece of his pitch to Hispanics and Trump actually has a minority outreach coordinator in the state. Additionally, conservative outside groups are investing in the state. The Koch supported LIBRE Foundation has distributed thousands of anti-Masto literature pieces and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has funneled millions into state party efforts to turn out and appeal to non-traditional GOP supporters.
Democrats counter that the state is notoriously difficult to predict and despite the closeness of the race it will break for them in the end. However, the party refuses to acknowledge their chosen heir to Harry Reid is not a grade A candidate and that Trump is running competitively in the state giving Heck a leg up in his race.
Ultimately, they could be right. But, right now, the state is giving Democrats heartburn both in the Presidential and Senate race. If Trump can manage to win Nevada he is one step closer to the Presidency. If Heck can take Harry Reid’s Senate seat he all but ensures Republicans remain in the majority in the Senate. With Ohio and Florida looking redder, Democrats now have only 50/50 shots in Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire and North Carolina. Winning twp of those races is doable (especially if Clinton wins the Presidency) but if Heck wins Nevada Democrats virtually have to run the Senate table and with Trump running stronger than ever that is unlikely to happen.