If a red wave arrives in November, as many expect, it will likely wash ashore in landlocked Nevada, a state whose recent history of Democratic victories masks just how hard-fought those triumphs have been.
In presidential elections, Republicans have not won Nevada since 2004, when President George W. Bush carried the state narrowly over John Kerry. Races for statewide office have been more contested, but still dominated by Democrats on the whole.
This year could be different. Nevadans will cast their final ballots on Tuesday in primary elections that will decide what sorts of candidates will be carrying the G.O.P. banner in November. And as of now, it looks as if many of those Republicans might very well be elected.
Much has been written about the woes of Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year. Whenever her name appears in national news coverage, it’s invariably accompanied by some version of the phrase “one of Democrats’ most endangered incumbents.”
Her likely opponent is Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general whose father, Pete Domenici, was a senator in New Mexico — a fact that was a closely held family secret until 2013. Laxalt’s grandfather was Paul Laxalt, who served as both governor and senator in Nevada.
Heading into Election Day, Laxalt looks to be comfortably ahead of his top primary opponent, Sam Brown, a retired Army captain. Laxalt helped lead Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the presidential election results in Nevada in 2020.
Less well understood than the Senate stakes is the fact that all three of Democrats’ House seats in Nevada are also at risk in November.
The Cook Political Report rates all three districts as Democratic tossups. House Majority PAC, the main outside spending arm of House Democrats, has reserved more dollars in ad spending in Las Vegas than in any other media market in the country.
There’s Representative Susie Lee, who squeaked by her Republican opponent by fewer than 13,000 votes in 2020. Lee’s likely opponent is April Becker, a lawyer who has the backing of Representative Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House.
Representative Steven Horsford, whose district stretches from northern Las Vegas to the middle of the state, could also be in trouble. In March, his wife, Sonya Douglass, popped up on Twitter to say she would “not be silent” about the decade-long affair he has admitted to having with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Senator Harry Reid.
Douglass criticized his choice to “file for re-election and force us to endure yet another season of living through the sordid details of the #horsfordaffair with #mistressforcongress rather than granting us the time and space to heal as a family.”
Linder hosted an “audio memoir” of the affair under a pseudonym, Love Jones, called “Mistress for Congress.”
After Horsford responded to her first series of tweets, Douglass wrote: “This statement is worse than the first from May 2020. The lies never end. Let’s pray @stevenhorsford comes to grips with reality and gets the help he needs.”
Horsford’s likely opponent is Annie Black, a state lawmaker who was outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Last week, Black sent out a fund-raising appeal to supporters with the subject line, “The Real ‘Big Lie’ is that Biden Won ‘Fair and Square.’”
The Democratic primary to watch
Then there’s Representative Dina Titus, whose historically safe Las Vegas seat is now decidedly unsafe thanks to a decision by Nevada Democrats to spread some of the voters in her old district across the two others.
That move prompted a vulgar complaint by Titus, who blasted the redistricting move as “terrible” during remarks at an A.F.L.-C.I.O. town hall event in December.
“They could have created two safe seats for themselves and one swing,” Titus said. “That would have been smart.” She added: “No, no, we have to have three that are very likely going down.”
Titus, in an interview, noted that she had represented parts of her new district when she was in the Nevada Legislature. “It’s like coming home,” she said.
"Been gone awhile, but I’m back.”
But first, Titus faces a primary challenge from Amy Vilela, an activist who last week secured the backing of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Vilela was a co-chair of the Sanders presidential campaign in 2020. She previously ran in a primary against Horsford in 2018, losing by a large margin.
This time, Vilela is running a progressive insurgent campaign against what she called “complacency” by Titus and the Democratic establishment, which she said was causing low enthusiasm among voters.
“We definitely have to start delivering on our promises and start addressing the needs of the working class instead of the donor base,” Vilela said in an interview.
“Well, let’s put it in perspective,” Titus responded, pointing to her record of bringing federal dollars to Nevada. “When Amy tries to portray herself as the progressive and me as the establishment, look at all the endorsements I have. She’s a Democratic Socialist, and I’m the progressive Democrat.”
‘We fell off the skyscraper and quickly hit bottom’
If Nevada flips to red in November, the state’s economic struggles will be a powerful reason.
Nevada’s unemployment rate surged to 28.5 percent in April 2020, just after the coronavirus pandemic throttled the tourism industry, which makes up a huge portion of the state’s economy. The unemployment rate is now 5 percent, still not quite at prepandemic levels.
Democrats say that without their help, the economic suffering would have been worse. And Mike Noble, a pollster who works in Nevada, said that while a Republican sweep was a possibility, “a lot of things would need to go right for the G.O.P. to make that come to fruition since the Democrats have the advantage of incumbency.”
Inflation is posing a potent new threat. As of Monday, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in Nevada was $5.66, well above the $5 national average.
That’s in a state with an anemic public transit system, where you need a car to get most places. And rents in Las Vegas, a place with a famously transient population, are rising faster than in nearly any other city in the country.
“Our recovery has been in fits and starts,” said Stephen Miller, research director at the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We fell off the skyscraper and quickly hit bottom, then we just went kind of sideways for a while.”
A deep-red New Mexico county tries to ditch voting machines and drop boxes
In a New Mexico county that Donald Trump carried by 26 percentage points in the 2020 election, officials have voted unanimously to abandon the use of electronic voting machines and drop boxes for absentee ballots, persuaded by an “audit force” that critics say has sowed baseless fraud claims.
The Otero County Commission, which is made up entirely of Republicans, took the step on Thursday after a two-hour presentation by the New Mexico Audit Force, a partisan group whose canvassing activities and embrace of conspiracy theories has drawn scrutiny from Congress.
Couy Griffin, the commissioner who introduced the measures, defended the work of the audit force before the 3-to-0 vote.
“If the 2020 election was built on a lie,” Griffin said, “which we believe it was, we hope that it does overturn it. We live in a time right now whenever we say, ‘I’m not sure the vote’s secure,’ and it’s just like you get attacked from every angle like you’re a crazy person.”
The commissioners acknowledged that the vote might be symbolic more than anything, pointing out that the county clerk, a Republican, will have the final say.
A spokesman for New Mexico’s top election official — Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the Democratic secretary of state — said in an email on Monday that state law governed voting systems and drop boxes. The county will continue to maintain and utilize the current systems under the authority of the state and the county clerk, he said.
“The vote taken by the Otero County Commission last week has no legal authority,” Alex Curtas, the spokesman, said.
In a move that echoed other Republican efforts across the country to switch to hand-counting of votes, the commission also voted to conduct a hand count of ballots cast in last Tuesday’s primary elections, but state officials said there was no mechanism for the county to simply order that.
Representatives of the audit force told the commissioners that ballots should be hand-counted for the November election and said that the electronic machines — made by Dominion Voting Systems — were vulnerable to being hacked, in addition to incorrectly interpreting and marking ballots.
A representative for Dominion Voting Systems, the target of baseless pro-Trump conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines, said, “This is yet another example of how lies about Dominion have damaged our company and diminished the public’s faith in elections.”
Gerald Matherly, a commissioner, said that he had been persuaded that drop boxes were a “scam thing” after watching “2000 Mules,” a film by the conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza that makes numerous false claims about “ballot trafficking” and election fraud. An Associated Press analysis of the film found gaping holes in its supposed findings.