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John L. Smith: 'There's a wonderful history of tight races in Nevada'

Election 2022 Nevada Governor
AP Photo/John Locher
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Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Republican candidate for governor of Nevada, waits to speak at a campaign event Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, in Las Vegas.

The 2022 midterm election is Tuesday. This election cycle is seeing campaigns not only aggressively courting voters across the state, but vying for the national political spotlight, as well. 

Do this year’s campaigns say anything about our current politics? And what might happen during and after election night?  State of Nevada contributor and commentator John L. Smith joins us for more.

“There's a wonderful history of tight races in Nevada, especially in the U.S. Senate,” Smith said. 

In 1964, Howard Cannon was up against then-Lt. Gov. Paul Laxalt. There were 134,000 votes cast, but the race came down to a 48-vote margin, with Cannon being reelected. Then in 1998, John Ensign, who was a congressman at the time, challenged Harry Reid. 

“And that resulted in a 401 vote victory with a much larger voting pool,” Smith said. “Of course, Paul Laxalt went on to a stellar career in Nevada politics; John Ensign wound up being a United States senator anyway. So you have big futures for people [who] come in second on election day, they're not necessarily out of the game.”

Millions of dollars have been poured into Nevada for these campaigns, but nearly every poll shows the races neck-and-neck.

“Or does [the late] Harry Reid's machine … need a tune up?” 

He said it’s one of the questions that will be asked, but like all midterms, “you have midterms that favor the party that’s out of power.” 

On the Democrats

I think overall, when you're looking at it day-to-day, you have to say that they've played nice in the sandbox. It's not like the Clark County Republican Party and their warfare that took place. So I think overall, that you can't say that it's been a complete loss leader for the party. It was a distraction early on, and I think had that not been tamped down, it would have been a real problem. Bernie Sanders was in town, revving up the vote and getting some of his followers –who are many off the couch and making sure that they turn out. And so you're seeing a lot of movement in the party. And that's just part of what's going on there. But I do think this is one of the proof in the pudding moments. If they've been getting along. What will the result be? Now, there are many factors, but people who study this are going to study whether they were effective or not.

On the Republicans

I think a lot of folks in the Republican Party have tried to move on from this kind of Big Lie politics. Unfortunately, in Nevada, a lot of their candidates have not. The Republicans that I've interviewed and spoken with off the cuff, they're tired of that. They have issues that they support and believe in, and they'd like to focus on that. Late in the day here, you're seeing a lot of those Republican candidates in Nevada focus on those issues, because those are real question marks in our community across the board, right? High gas prices and inflation's effects. So they have that going for him. And they have a Latino outreach. 

On the Senate race: Cortez Masto vs. Laxalt

I'm not sure if he's got it in the bag, if he thinks that, but he certainly is campaigning. He's going on a bus tour across the state to accentuate that feeling … that he's out there among them. And I have to believe that a lot of the money that's poured in late has kept this race really close. The last Nevada Independent poll that I saw had Cortez Masto shaded a couple of points up, but the previous one had Adam Laxalt a couple of points up. Both sides are within the margin of error, about four points. So you know, you're talking about a close race. But … if we can look back just another moment, we've had close races before, and it's really how we handle them as a community and as a state that really makes a statement about our character.

On the Governor race: Sisolak vs. Lombardo

For the last four years, to a great extent, Steve Sisolak has been the bearer of bad news, right? You've got a pandemic, he stood up in front of the public many times and talked about it and didn't shirk from it; he made some decisions that rub people the wrong way. I think that the reality is you can run a campaign, you can get elected, but you can't predict the future. And I think the governor has made himself visible on all of these issues, many of them contentious, many of them not made to build your positives. And he's running against a guy who's well known in Clark County.

Hear the full interview above.

John L. Smith, contributor, State of Nevada

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.