One year after the 2016 election, President Donald Trump’s presidency has succeeded in energizing both Republicans and Democrats.
Republicans are on the ground earlier in Nevada than they were in 2016, holding a day of action Nov. 4, and Democrats at the national level are pushing a down-the-ticket approach to campaigning that focuses beyond the presidency. Midterm elections are key in 2018 as many states choose legislatures that will determine redistricting after the next census. Nevada chose Democrat Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump in 2016, bucking a national red trend of Republican wins and taking control of the Legislature.
The Trump administration has racked up losses on Obamacare, with a Republican-controlled Congress failing to deliver on long-standing GOP promises to repeal and replace it, and succeeded in rolling back immigration policies, including sunsetting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects certain young immigrants from deportation.
Nevada State Democratic Party spokesman Stewart Boss said Trump’s win a year ago was a surprise to many, with the rest of the country turning redder than expected. Now, he said, the goal in Nevada is to replicate its success from 2016, when the party succeeded in turning out voters, and turning back losses from 2014.
“Some of these offices, like attorney general or secretary of state, I think are even more important now under a Trump administration than many folks realized they were before this,” he said. “A lot of attorneys general are leading the fight against the Trump administration.”
In a race seen as a test for both parties as they prepare for the first midterm since Trump’s election, Democrat Ralph Northam won Virginia’s gubernatorial race Tuesday night. He faced a Republican who’d campaigned against sanctuary cities, communities that have policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.
Parties tend to lose seats during midterm elections when their party’s president has a low approval rating. Trump’s most recent approval rating, according to Gallup, was under 40 percent. Former President Barack Obama had a 51 percent approval rating in November of his first year in office.
“We’re a year out still, but the national environment appears to be toxic for Republicans,” Boss said. “Nevada is a very competitive battleground state and that’s not going to change, but the Republican brand is clearly damaged and it looks like it’s going to be a drag on their candidates all over the country.”
He said he wanted to see more results, “but it does not look like the strategy of demonizing immigrants as dangerous criminals was effective there either.”
A so-called sanctuary state measure failed in the Nevada Legislature this year. Attorney General Adam Laxalt, Republican gubernatorial candidate, is opposed to sanctuary policies, and Republican Sen. Michael Roberson, lieutenant governor candidate, is supporting a petition to put a measure on the 2018 ballot that would ban policies that limit cooperation with immigration authorities.
Christiana Purves, Republican National Committee regional spokeswoman, said as Tuesday night’s results came in that Nevada voters want a candidate who will make sure people who are living in the country illegally and commit a felony are “held accountable.”
She said that since Trump’s election, she’s seen momentum for the Republican Party continue.
“I'd much rather be in our position going into the midterms than the Democrats’ position heading into the midterms,” she said. “We’ve raised more than $100 million to date; we have around $45 million in the bank. The Democrats are broke, they’re in disarray, they have party in-fighting that has proven to become more and more of an issue. They’re in debt going into 2018 and they’re not going to be able to support the amount of races they are going to face in the midterm.”
Democrats have been dealing with criticism over revelations regarding Clinton’s ties to the party while she was running for president. During the national committee’s fall meeting in Las Vegas, leaders repeatedly called for unity after a year of disagreements. Boss said these types of issues are not those that will determine an election and that voters are more interested in issues that impact them on a day-to-day basis.
Republicans, meanwhile, have seen party members sink key health care votes and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a vocal opponent of Trump, cited the party under Trump in his announcement that he would not to run for his seat again. Purves said the Republican Party has many independent voices and that she doesn’t think this is a sign of a trend either way.
Michael Green, UNLV associate history professor, said Trump, like the tea party movement, may be pushing the Republican Party further to the right while progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., push Democrats to the left.
Green said conservatives face questions about whether they’re conservative enough, such as Flake. He said Clinton faced criticism in 2016 about how she was not left-wing enough.
The idea that the government overreaches is still an idea that resonates with certain voters, Green said.
“Nevada is an interesting case study,” Green said. “It has this anti-government tradition in some quarters that Trump exemplifies. … As much as the Nevada electorate has changed and certainly become more ethnically diverse and much larger in the south, there is still a prevailing attitude that works to Trump’s benefit.”