MY COLUMN: Predictions for Campaign '14

In 1986, a two-term congressman named Harry Reid successfully ran for the U.S. Senate with the slogan, “Independent Like Nevada.”

In 2014, if Nevada voters are not independent, the GOP wave building here will be massive, wiping out legislative majorities, lifting all Republican statewide candidates to victory and making Steven Horsford a one-term congressman. None of those results would surprise me.

The Republicans have a nearly 8 percentage-point lead after early and mail ballots have been tallied (the actual numbers are 45.3 percent to 37.6 percent), a 23,000-ballot advantage with some rural numbers not complete, so it will be higher).

If the Republicans are holding their base in any given race, and independent and other voters are at best split with Democrats (a generous hypothetical), the GOP candidate cannot lose. It is these independent Nevadans we have heard about all these years, the ones unafraid to split tickets, the ones who vote for “the person not the party,” whom the Democrats need to survive.

Turnout is so low, though, that I have to believe these are the hardcore partisans casting ballots. So the Democrats, who usually dominate early voting but now have used it as an early warning system of an impending tsunami, must generate enough turnout of their folks on Tuesday to save some of their candidates.

The storyline Tuesday night will be one of two: The GOP swept to massive victories in state and local races or the Republicans lost some contests in an incredibly favorable year that they should have won. It’s all about which Democrats in real races can survive, and I’d guess not many.

Everything is in play, even down to some sure Clark County Commission seats. I have never seen anything quite like it. There is no historical analogy, except perhaps to 1994 when the first Clinton midterm begat The Gingrich Revolution that took out one congressman here but a governor and senator survived. Only in Nevada could 20 years later leave us with the question of whether the daughter of that ousted congressman (Erin Bilbray) and the son of the surviving governor (Ross Miller) also be wiped out or saved when the GOP flood occurs. One seems already done; the other may be.

I still think this road began with the utter lack of leadership by the Democrats in Session ’13, their failure to put any pressure on Gov. Brian Sandoval and refusal to embrace a mining tax plan that could have totally changed the dynamic from top to bottom. But….spilt milk.

This is the part of this column where I remind you of my past successes and wail about how hard this year is to predict one more time (low turnout, GOP wave, anomalous numbers), and expect to have no slack cut by readers ready to pounce on my wrong picks.

Sometimes I think I should have stopped doing this after I boldly predicted Harry Reid’s 2010 win. I should have dropped the mic and walked off the oracle stage.

But that’s not me. I followed up in 2012 by calling the razor-thin Dean Heller Senate victory, by predicting the president’s win here, by saying Steven Horsford would be elected to Congress. I missed the state Senate makeup by one seat – those 300 votes Justin Jones won by – but it was another good year.

So here I go again, with low-turnout elections so difficult to call, in THE HARDEST YEAR OF ALL TIME, putting my Delphic powers to the test:

GOVERNOR: The only interesting aspects of this are if Brian Sandoval can get more than 70 percent and how quickly the calls start coming for him to run for the U.S. Senate. Kenny Guinn garnered 72 percent in 2002 against Joe Neal, and Bob Goodman is no Joe Neal. But he has that Oscar-like last name, which has helped him get more votes than he should have in past quixotic races. Most polls show Sandoval under 70 percent. But I say he gets there. Sandoval, 73 percent; Goodman, 22 percent; David VanDerBeek and none, 5 percent.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Never has so much been spent to achieve an office that does so little. State Sen. Mark Hutchison is going to win; the only question is by how much. His campaign has been fueled by his preternatural work ethic and the gobs of money Team Hutchoval has raised. Team Reid (“Proxy war, what proxy war?”) helped seed Flores’ campaign. But in an emblem of the cycle, was too distracted elsewhere (hello, U.S. Senate majority) to do much more. Flores was never able to keep up financially, hoping to rely on her inspiring life story and Hispanics who are not turning out. Now, with Sandoval and Rep. Joe Heck not interested in Harry Reid’s seat, I bet the pressure comes down on Hutchison to be the guy. He already has practice at leaving one office at midterm…. Hutchison, 56 percent; Flores, 40 percent; Mike Little and none, 4 percent.

AG: The most expensive contest in the state, almost entirely bereft of substance. We may never see a race like this again. I hope. I understand the partisan imperative to stop Secretary of State Ross Miller before he gets on the gubernatorial track. But some Republicans, including some prominent ones, have been willing to elevate someone manifestly unqualified for the job, piggybacking on Adam Laxalt's grandfather’s relationships to raise money, trying to paper over his lack of experience and horrific law firm review and hyping his military record, to defeat the secretary of state. It is no accident that every major newspaper, including the conservative RJ, endorsed Milelr after meeting Adam Laxalt. But it may not matter. Miller has been his own worst enemy. His campaign has not been stellar. He gave the Laxalt campaign and the Republican Attorneys General Association all the ammunition they needed by his social media frivolousness and obvious hypocrisy on gift acceptance. In all the years I have covered politics, though, nothing has so offended me in a major race as much as Team Laxalt’s attempt to portray anyone who questioned the candidate’s evolving/conflicting stories about his military service as somehow attacking said service and anyone who has ever served. It is, to quote another candidate this year, simply un-American. I still think this race could go either way. But I must choose. The bottom line: I think Washoe saves Miller. Barely. Miller, 46 percent; Laxalt, 44, percent; Jonathan Hansen, 6 percent; none of the above, 4 percent.

SOS: This may be the single hardest race of the cycle to predict. Treasurer Kate Marshall has done everything she can to erect sandbags against the wave by raising a ton of money, getting her name ID up and pounding state Sen. Barbara Cegavske. The latter has focused on Washoe and counted on the GOP wave in the South to blunt Marshall’s edge. It just may be enough, although I wouldn’t be surprised if this race goes either way. If Cegasvke wins, she will do so only because of a GOP wipeout, should it occur. Somehow, I think northerner Marshall does well enough in Washoe to survive. Marshall, 48 percent, Cegavske, 47 percent; none, 5 percent.

MARGIN TAX: I could start by wondering how many teachers could be hired by the millions spent on this. I could talk about the RJ’s ridiculous coverage or NPRI’s obsession or the abomination at UNLV on this. I could lament (again) that the teachers union should have made the rate lower and the tax structure better. But I won’t. I’ll just put it simply: Money will out; this is going to get crushed. Question for all those quietly trying to build consensus for a legislative tax package, many of the same folks who helped make the coming landslide happen: How do you sell people on a new tax after they just voted one down by a massive margin? “No” will get to 64 percent.

CD3: This is the forgotten story of Campaign ’14. Most smart Democrats considered Democratic National Committeewoman Erin Bilbray an underdog against Rep. Joe Heck. But they hoped she would run a credible, competitive race. Instead, she has run one of the worst campaigns in a major contest this state has seen, perhaps causing further damage in smaller political subdivisions inside CD3 (i.e. legislative contests). From the beginning, Bilbray seemed unprepared for the challenge despite being from a political family and claiming to have trained candidates for the hurly burly. Her campaign tossed away managers and seemed to be modeling its effort on a run for high school president. Eastern Avenue values? Mom and dad and sis and kids support me? We are almost out of pens, please send help? This is going to be a blowout, perhaps an even bigger margin of loss than Rep. Dina Titus wins by. Heck, 55 percent; Bilbray 41 percent; rest, 4 percent.

CD4: I remember the Democratic panic toward the end in 2012, when Steven Horsford had not consolidated the Democratic base and Danny Tarkanian seemed poised for an upset. But it was a big Democratic year here, and Horsford righted the ship to win by 8 percentage points. This year the panic is geometrically worse because of the building GOP wave. The latest numbers show the Democrats have made a comeback in Clark County to lead by 1,200 ballots or so. But that’s not much of a cushion because he is trailing by about twice that number in the rural part of the district. The all-out effort to save Horsford, led by the Culinary, began early enough that it could still turn the tide around in Clark, and with an Election Day push could save him. It will be close, though. A couple of third-party candidates and Assemblyman Cresent Hardy’s low name recognition may be the deciding factors. Horsford, 47 percent; Hardy, 45 percent; rest, 8 percent.

STATE SENATE: I just don’t see how the Democrats overcome the early numbers in the three key districts. They are down by such huge margins that I don’t think any of them can hold off the GOP surge, even Justin Jones, who won by 300 votes in a Democratic wave year.  Democrats think he still has a chance because of his crossover potential, and an Election Day miracle. But the Democrats are down by 900 ballots there before Tuesday, so if the Republicans lose this race, it will be a huge disappointment – nay, humiliation. I don’t see it. Republicans take the Senate, 11-10.

ASSEMBLY: Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick’s favorite saying, no matter the circumstances, is: “It‘s all good.” It’s not all good. Indeed, it’s almost all bad. The Republicans have a chance to flip at least eight seats, which is highly unusual. They need six to tie and seven to take control. Only thing that saves a Democratic majority now is that some good or decent Democratic candidates in close races defeating some GOP hopefuls who make Michele Fiore look like Margaret Thatcher. If GOP does not take the majority in this year of all years, the Republicans will regret not filling all seats with credible folks, as hard as that is to do. My only guarantee is that if it is close, there will be mischief. Harvey Munford already is telling people he is open to caucusing with the Republicans. If it’s tied, there will be attempts to get folks to switch parties to change the majority. 21-21 is a real possibility, two ineligible Democrats actually “winning,” too. Get ready, Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes. You are about to be, ahem, challenged as never before, I fear. 22-20, Dems.

MISCELLANY: I won’t pad my average by telling you Mark Amodei will be re-elected to Congress or that Titus will be, too, although by a smaller margin than feels comfortable. Somehow, the appeals court will squeak by, as will the mining tax question, although I feel this is heart over head on both. Joe Lombardo will be the next Clark County sheriff, winning by single digits. I think the Republicans will win the treasurer’s race and the controller’s race, not because they have good candidates but because the tide will lift their boats. Susan Brager and Mary Beth Scow will overcome those early vote numbers to survive.

I hope to open up some bubbly Tuesday but may just be eating crow.




The Democrats have finally alienated their base. The problem is not that too many Republicans voted but rather that too few Democrats did. It's difficult to inspire the base when you act like Republicans. The base is pissed about the margins tax and the Democrats lack of support. How much do you bet that if there is some tax solution at the legislature it involves taxing their constituents rather than their contributors a la "the fun tax"? This should not be a surprise to anyone. Good riddance to the ineffective Democratic leadership.