Well, they’re not horrible. But Democrats can’t be too happy about their present chances of replacing outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid with another Democrat in the U.S. Senate could certainly be better than they are right now.
Reid was no lock to win reelection even if he decided to run again in 2016. He polls as poorly today as he did in 2010, when the Nevada electorate appeared ready to jettison the Silver State’s longtime senator, but a majority of voters just couldn’t bring themselves to pull the lever for Sharron Angle. At the year’s open, veteran Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston estimated Reid’s chances of reelection were no better than 55 percent, regardless of whoever the Republicans nominated to face him.
And the GOP has a relatively solid bench of talent in Nevada, with one prohibitive favorite if he chooses to run for the U.S. Senate: Gov. Brian Sandoval. The Republican governor has not made his 2016 intentions clear, but he won a second term in November with the support of 71 percent of the state’s voters. If he declared, he would enter the race as the favorite.
As for the Democrats, Reid has already made it clear that he wants to be succeeded by a Hispanic legislator and has endorsed former Nevada Attorney General Catherin Cortez Masto to replace him in the upper chamber. Ralston notes that Reid’s endorsement will go a long way, but there are other contenders on the Democratic side who might take a stab at thwarting Reid’s wishes:
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) March 27, 2015
But, no matter who the president’s party nominates, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver sees a rough road ahead for Nevada Democrats.
The problem for Democrats is that, other than Reid and Obama, their candidates haven’t had such an easy time turning out the vote. Republicans control Nevada’s governorship, its state assembly and (narrowly) its state senate, along with three of its four U.S. House seats. Democrats have sometimes come up short in the state even under seemingly favorable circumstances, such as Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District in 2006, when Republican incumbent John Porter narrowly defeated Democratic challenger Dana Titus in a Democratic “wave” year 1, or when the Democratic candidate Shelley Berkley lost the U.S. Senate race in 2012 even as Obama was re-elected.
“This isn’t a total disaster for Democrats by any means,” Silver concluded. “Perhaps the race is a true tossup now, whereas, with Reid on the ballot, they would have been only slightly favored. But, even for all his baggage, Democrats may miss Reid.”
There are presidential implications to consider, too. It’s easy to forget, but Nevada is still a purple state. The presence of presidential candidates at the top of the 2016 ballot will inevitable impact Election Day turnout, and there could easily be enough of a Team Clinton Democratic turnout operation to overcome the weaknesses of the party’s Senate nominee. Of course, if there is a strong GOP candidate at the presidential and senatorial levels, it is possible that Nevada could again reveal its character as a swing state.
At this admittedly early stage, keeping Nevada blue will be a challenge. For the GOP, however, their party’s prospects of retaining control of the upper chamber in 2017 just got a bit brighter.