How to Win Nevada

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You know who matters in the 2018 midterms? Donald Trump! But not just Donald Trump. Control of the Senate rests in part on what voters think of the president of the United States, but it will also be determined by local disputes and regional quirks—demographics and issues, but also myth-making and self-conception. In this series of articles—this is the fourth—Politico Magazine asked an expert on a state with a crucial statewide race to explain what matters there that doesn’t matter anywhere else.

When Catherine Cortez Masto became the first Latina elected to the United States Senate, some of Nevada’s political class called her “the senator from Clark County.” Her victory map from November 2016 looked like a cupful of water at the tip of an upturned gas can. Clark was the only county Cortez Masto won. It’s home to the Las Vegas Valley, 2.2 million people, and 70 percent of the state’s electorate. By running up the score in Clark, she did enough to overcome losses in rural counties and a narrow defeat in Washoe County, which encompasses Reno.

During the 2016 presidential election, down-ticket Republicans in other battleground states benefited from Donald Trump’s wildfire success on issues like trade and immigration. In the diverse city of Las Vegas, Trump’s rhetoric didn’t play so well. Hillary Clinton won Nevada. Harry Reid’s Senate seat went to his chosen successor. Democrats took over the state Legislature. And progressive ballot measures on gun control and recreational marijuana succeeded.

The Democrats’ sweeping victory in Nevada proved to be an outlier nationally, and it may be remembered as a local anomaly, too. The race was tight. Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general, defeated Republican congressman Joe Heck by 2.4 percentage points, which is about how close incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and his challenger, Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, are in the latest midterm polls.

Heller is the only Senate Republican up for reelection in a state Clinton won in 2016. But the Silver State is still purple. And it takes more than a strong performance in Las Vegas for a Democrat to win Nevada.

It’s already been a strange year in Nevada’s desert. Brothel owner Dennis Hof, star of the HBO series Cathouse, was poised to join the state Assembly by branding himself “The Trump of Pahrump,” and then died in his sleep after an Oct. 15 birthday rally attended by Joe Arpaio, Grover Norquist, and porn star Ron Jeremy. Hof will remain on the ballot. He is expected to achieve his political dream posthumously, which would force the county to appoint a Republican replacement.

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