What began as a trickle has turned into a cascade. Yesterday, Ed Perlmutter became the 26th Democratic Representative to announce that he is not running for re-election to the House this November. The move comes amid a structural map that is looking more and more favorable to Republican candidates, who are benefitting from the first midterm of an unpopular president, as well as new maps that favor Republican candidates in many districts.
Against that backdrop, it’s fair to wonder whether any of Nevada’s four members of Congress will join the exodus. Perlmutter was one of the “Democratic rebels” — the dozen or so incumbent Democrats who opposed Nancy Pelosi being elected Speaker after the Democrats re-took the House in 2018 by netting 40 new seats for a 35-seat advantage.
These moderates who opposed Pelosi were generally from Districts or States that believed Pelosi to be a drag on the party’s chances in 2020 and beyond. While Pelosi battled back that challenge, the rebels’ worries did come to pass. Despite winning the presidency in 2020, Democrats only flipped three seats while Republicans flipped 15, narrowing the Democratic lead to a razor’s edge of only three seats—a lead that many believe is in jeopardy.
“I think it’s fair to say that the Representative most likely to at least be thinking about the exits—publicly or not—is Dina Titus,” said Adam Geller, CEO of National Research, Inc., who polls for Republican clients including President Trump. In an interview with the Nevada Globe, Geller explained that Titus “hasn’t made it a secret that she is pissed about her new district lines. But her larger point is that in a red wave year – which 2022 is likely to be at this point – all Nevada Congressional Democrats could be vulnerable.”
Titus suggested as much in colorful remarks that blame her fellow Nevada Democrats for putting her seat in CD1—and possibly Steven Horsford’s seat in CD4—at risk.
“You read that the Republicans are using gerrymandering to cut out Democratic seats, but they didn’t have to in this state,” Titus told a meeting of the AFL-CIO at a town hall meeting last month. “We did it to ourselves.”
If the DSA follows through on a promised primary challenge to Titus, the expense and heartburn of an already tough election year might prove too much for the veteran congresswoman. With the state Democratic party already enduring civil war between the establishment Harry Reid wing and the DSA faction that won control of the party in what some consider a coup, tough intraparty races might just be more than experienced incumbents can tolerate.
“While Titus has been the most vocal in expressing her frustration with the newly drawn maps, her district – on paper at least – is still relatively safer than either Lee’s or Horsford’s” said Geller, referring to U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (CD3). “If either Lee or Horsford joins the exodus, it would not be a surprise.”
Nevada Democrats are trending red
Geller underlined to the Globe that maps are a zero-sum game. If the maps insert Democrats into CD’s 3 and 4, that will mean taking Democrats out of CD1. That becomes especially challenging if Democrats either don’t show up in force or begin to vote Republican.
Jon Ralston at the Nevada Independent reported that Democrats are seeing nearly three times as many defections as Republicans over the last three months. Ralston said that the numbers so far are “relatively small … but if this pattern continues well into 2022, it could well be the canary in the coal mine for a red wave.”
“You can give more Democrats to CD’s 3 and 4,” said Geller. “But you will be taking them from CD1. To Titus’s point, the Legislature may have made Lee and Horsford marginally safer, at Titus’s expense. But in a red-wave year it may not matter – not only is Titus more vulnerable now, but Lee and Horsford still won’t have the numbers to survive a red wave. Their districts were dicey at best before – and only marginally more Democratic now.”
Voters in Nevada are essentially a three-way tie. The state’s 1.8 million registered voters break down into 34.78% Democrats, 30.4% Republicans, and 34.8% who don’t affiliate with either of the major parties. Even in a wave year for either side, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which all four Congressional seats would go one way. But it’s less hard to imagine one, and possibly two, of Nevada’s Democratic seats flipping this year, especially if one of the incumbents decides not to run.
“While Titus might be the most obvious candidate to consider joining the exodus of retiring members,” said Geller, “it is not impossible to imagine Lee or Horsford considering retirement too. If morale continues to dip for Dem House members, if fundraising lags, and if President Biden’s approval rating continues to be a drag on Democratic House members.”
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