Under new Nevada map, a GOP wave could swamp all three Democrats

Redistricting means Titus also faces competitive race, like Horsford and Lee

The districts of Nevada Democrats Steven Horsford and Susie Lee were redrawn to pick up 
more Democratic-leaning voters but remain competitive, Gonzales writes.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The districts of Nevada Democrats Steven Horsford and Susie Lee were redrawn to pick up more Democratic-leaning voters but remain competitive, Gonzales writes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted December 14, 2021 at 6:30am

ANALYSIS — Democrats knew they were at a disadvantage this redistricting cycle because Republicans control the drawing of more House seats. And yet Democrats might have made their lives more difficult in Nevada, one of the few key states where they control the redistricting process. 

This is the first time in 20 years that Nevada hasn’t gained a seat in reapportionment. The Silver State went from two to three seats in 2002 and three to four seats in 2012. With control of the state Legislature and Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, Democrats could effectively do as they please. 

[More House race ratings | Initial Senate race ratings]

Democrats currently have a 3-to-1 advantage in the House delegation but came within 5 points of losing two of those seats in 2020. So Democrats went to the drawing board to shore up the 3rd and 4th districts by redistributing Democratic voters from the safely blue 1st District. That, however, now makes the 1st District vulnerable to a GOP takeover. 

The final result is three competitive districts that Democrats could hold if the environment tracks the way Nevadans voted in 2020 — or lose in a good political environment for Republicans, like the one that saw a significant swing toward the GOP in Virginia  and New Jersey last month. 

Republicans need a net gain of just five seats nationwide to retake the House majority. And Democrats losing three seats in Nevada would likely signal a GOP wave. 

[‘Frontline’ list of Democratic incumbents to get special help revised]

Of course, candidates and campaigns still matter. Twenty years ago, Clark County Commissioner Dario Herrera was a Democratic rising star who was supposed to secure Nevada’s new 3rd District, which was divided evenly among Democrats, Republicans and independent voters. 

Herrera lost that race by nearly 20 points, 56 percent to 37 percent, to Republican former state Sen. Jon Porter, after some ethical questions surfaced. Later in the decade, Herrera did time in prison after he was convicted of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion surrounding his dealings, as a member of the county commission, with a strip club owner.

1st District (Dina Titus, D)

The Las Vegas-based 1st District saw the most dramatic changes under the new lines. 

Politically, the old 1st voted for Joe Biden by 25 points (61 percent to 36 percent) in 2020, while the new 1st would have backed Biden by 9 points, according to calculations by Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections. Geographically, the 1st loses its western half and adds other areas, including the GOP-leaning city of Henderson, which was in the 3rd when Titus represented it more than a decade ago. 

This cycle, it looks like the Nevada congresswoman with a Georgia accent could face competitive primary and general elections. Progressive Amy Vilela, who ran for the 4th District in 2018, is running for the redrawn 1st. The 2020 co-chair of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Nevada, Vilela garnered just 9 percent in her own race four years ago but was featured in the documentary “Knock Down the House ” alongside future New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Former Trump campaign staffer Carolina Serrano and retired Army Col. Mark Robertson are running for the GOP nomination. 

Titus starts the general election with the advantage. But if the cycle spirals out of control for Democrats and toward Republicans, she could be at risk of losing a seat drawn by her own party. Initial rating: Likely Democratic.

2nd District (Mark Amodei, R)

The least amount of political action is expected in the 2nd District, which includes a wide swath of rural territory across the “cow counties,” as well as Carson City and Reno, in northern Nevada. Politically, the seat didn’t change all that much. President Donald Trump beat Biden under the current lines by 10 points last year and would have won the redrawn seat by 11 points. 

Amodei landed on running for reelection after considering a bid for governor and getting past a cancer scare. He won reelection by 16 points in 2020, and 2022 is likely to be a more favorable environment for the GOP. Democrats have been trying to make inroads in Washoe County (Reno) for years, and the Washoe County Democratic Party has become the de facto state party after the official state party was taken over by the Democratic Socialists of America. But there’s no evidence that Democrats are going to win here in 2022. Initial rating: Solid Republican.

3rd District (Susie Lee, D)

Titus’ loss is Lee’s gain. By picking up parts of Las Vegas from the 1st District and shedding some GOP-leaning areas such as Henderson, the 3rd District moved from a seat Biden won by less than 1 point to one that would have backed him by 7 points. That’s more Democratic, but not safe enough for Lee to coast to reelection. 

Lee won a second term in 2020 by 3 points and with less than 50 percent of the vote. Three Republicans are already challenging her, including lawyer April Becker, who narrowly lost a state Senate race last cycle and has House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik’s endorsement. In a poor national environment for Democrats, this seat will be difficult to hold. Initial rating: Lean Democratic.

4th District (Steven Horsford, D)

Similar to Lee, Horsford won reelection last fall in a race that wasn’t expected to be as close as it was and Democrats used the redistricting process to make his district bluer. Biden carried Horsford’s central Nevada seat by 4 points in 2020 but would have won the redrawn district by 8 points. 

Horsford’s tenure in the House, like that of Titus, has been interrupted. He was the first person ever elected to Nevada’s 4th District in 2012, when it was created, but then lost reelection two years later in an upset. Horsford came back to win the open seat in 2018 after Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen was forced out under a cloud of scandal. 

This cycle, Air Force veteran Sam Peters, who placed second (7 points behind the winner) in the GOP primary for this seat in 2020, is running again. But there’s still time before the March 18 filing deadline for others to get into the race. Peters was just endorsed by Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar. Despite Democratic efforts to make this seat solid, it’s not, particularly in the current political environment. Initial rating: Likely Democratic.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.