Breaking Down The Race For Nevada's Assembly

Jun 6, 2018

There are 42 seats in Nevada's Assembly, and just like the U.S. House of Representatives, each and every seat is up for grabs in every election cycle. 

Though that may be the case, it doesn't always mean there are 42 hotly contested elections every two years. Instead, many races are either uncontested or non-competitive, leaving strong incumbents to run all by themselves in more than a dozen districts across the state.

But that doesn't mean every race starts done and dusted. Here's a breakdown of just how the race to control Nevada's lower chamber is shaking out in the days before the primary elections.

The math — and the map — favors Democrats in 2018

State-level elections are notoriously low-turnout affairs where just a few thousand — or even a few hundred — votes one way or the other can mean victory. Because of this, large voter-registration advantages for one party or the other can often make a large portion of legislative districts non-competitive.

For instance, Assembly District 24, a small district that encompasses more-or-less the center of Reno, has an enormous Democratic registration advantage of 23 points. Because of that, it's not surprising that there are four Democrats running in the AD24 and zero Republicans.

That pattern of strong advantages leading to automatic wins for one party appear in 13 of Nevada's 42 Assembly districts, and ten of those districts belong to Democrats. Add in another 15 districts where Dems are fighting GOP challengers but still have sizable registration advantages, and that takes the party safely above the margin they'd need to keep control of the lower chamber.

While many seats are in the bag, there are still a few real races

As mentioned above, many of the seats available this year are either automatic wins for an incumbent, or there is so-large a registration advantage that it's safe to make predictions for one side or the other. However, there are still a few districts here or there with a competitive race appearing in the distance, some of which happen to be in northern Nevada.

The tightest race will likely be in Assembly District 31, a winding seat that wraps through parts of Sun Valley, Spanish Springs and Sparks. There isn't a primary race here, but by the time the general election rolls around, it'll be one of the most hotly contested seats in the state.

It's currently held by Democrat Skip Daly, who won the seat back in 2016 after losing it a cycle before. He'll face no Democratic primary challenger, instead squaring off against Republican Jill Dickman in November. Dickman won the district by more than 10 points in her 2014 bid, though she — like many state Republicans — benefitted from historically low turnout that year.

This year, things could go either way. The GOP has a 6 point registration advantage, but historical results show that strong turnout numbers — like those expected from this year's predicted "blue wave" — will likely benefit Daly.

Another is the race to take Assembly District 24, seat of outgoing Assemblywoman Amber Joiner. There are four candidates -- all Democrats -- vying for the district in the middle of Reno. The apparent frontrunner is Deonne Contine, a former head of the state tax department with endorsements from the state teachers union and EMILY's List.

Her challengers run the gamut, from Sarah Peters, who's been endorsed by the state AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club, to Tom Stewart, a local business owner with endorsements from a number of state and local lawmakers, to Edward Coleman, a state employee active within the county party organ.

Also up for grabs is Assembly District 32, the district vacated by GOP Assemblyman-turned state senate candidate Ira Hansen. The district is one of the largest in Nevada, sprawling across multiple counties in the rural northwestern part of the state. The current frontrunner is Republican Alexis Hansen, Ira Hansen's wife, who'll contend this June with Tom Fransway, a Humboldt county commissioner.

Further east, there's the geographically-massive Assembly District 33, held by incumbent Republican John Ellison. The popular Ellison, an assemblyman since 2010, is facing an inter-party challenge from the termed-out Elko Mayor Chris Johnson. It will be the first electoral challenge for Ellison since he won his seat eight years ago.

Turnout will be everything

Ultimately, what matters most in any given race is turnout. Historically, Democrats benefit from higher turnout, which usually means that younger voters or minority voters — two low-turnout groups that tend to be Democrats — came out to vote.

By the same token, Republicans benefit from lower turnouts, (see: the 2014 midterms). Low turnout usually means those voters who did show up are demographically dominated by high-turnout constituencies, e.g. groups that are whiter, older, wealthier, and more well-educated. If 2018 is going to be a "blue wave," as some pundits seem to be implying, then Nevada Dems will need to count on enthusiasm within the base. Without it, many races at all levels could be much, much tighter than they are now.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroniously referred to Assemblywoman Amber Joiner, D-Reno, as "recently retired." In fact, Joiner has only declined to run for reelection, and is still the acting assemblyperson for AD 24 until her term runs out at the start of next year.