Fight for control of Nevada Senate, Assembly

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Redistricting, retirements and political ambition have ensured big changes in the Nevada Legislature -- but Republican control of the Senate and the Democrats' edge in the Assembly may remain the same.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Minority Leader Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, are both hoping for gains in the Nov. 5 elections.

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, and Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, D-Henderson, say their respective minority leaders are dreaming if they think voters will shift control.

"I think we'll hold the Senate," Raggio said, dismissing Titus' view that Democrats have a chance to change the 12-9 GOP edge to an 11-10 Democratic margin in the upper house.

In the 42-seat Assembly, Democrats hold a 27-15 advantage -- and Hettrick says he's hoping to gain just "a couple of seats."

But Hettrick says the number of GOP seats could increase even more if there's a strong GOP voter turnout and if voters generally have "a more conservative line of thinking."

Titus is hoping for Democratic victories by Joe Carter over incumbent Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks; and by Tony Lamuraglia over Dennis Nolan, who's trying to move up to the Senate from the Assembly.

"Everything we're hearing is that those races are very close," said Titus, adding that Carter and Lamuraglia are "just working hard, focusing on issues that affect their districts."

In the Carter-Washington race, "we haven't gone negative because the press did it for us," said Titus, referring to news accounts of Washington's legal problems with a charter school he had headed. Carter also got an endorsement from Wanda Wright, one of the GOP candidates that Washington beat in the primary.

Of the 11 Senate races, the Carter-Washington contest in Washoe District 2 and the Lamuraglia-Nolan race in District 9, in Clark County, seem to be getting the most attention.

Four other Senate races should produce a split, since Democrats Terry Care and Bernice Mathews and Republicans Randolph Townsend and Mark Amodei are either running unopposed or against longshot independents.

That leaves five Senate contests that are likely to go 3-2 Republican -- although Democrats hold out hope for reversing that and getting a 3-2 result for themselves.

So what's the outlook if the Democrats get their way? They'll get at least six wins, added to the five Democrats who aren't running this election, and end up with a bare 11-10 edge in the upper house.

If things turn out the way Republicans expect, they'll get seven wins, added to their five incumbents who aren't running, and will go into the 2003 legislative session with the same 12-9 margin they now have in the Senate.

In the Assembly, Republicans have the tough task of hanging onto all 15 of their current seats and winning seven more to get a bare majority.

But Democrats controlled the Assembly during the 2001 redistricting, and tried to preserve voter registration edges in enough districts to give them an advantage in this year's elections.

This year, Assembly Democrats lost six incumbents to retirement, bids for other offices or primary election defeats.

But not having an incumbent -- someone typically viewed as an automatic front-runner -- running in those districts didn't really hurt because seven Republicans are gone from other districts for the same reasons.

While control of the Assembly isn't likely to shift given the large number of seats needed by Republicans, there's plenty of interest in the outcome of key races.

Those contests will determine, among other things, whether some incumbents survive, whether an effort to get more Hispanics into the Legislature succeeds, and whether former elected officials can make political comebacks.

In southern Nevada's Assembly District 17, Democrat Kelvin Atkinson, a black, is running against Republican Luis Valera, a Hispanic. There's a Democratic registration edge -- but nearly 20 percent of the district's voters are Hispanic.

In southern Nevada's Assembly District 20, former lawmaker Gene Segerblom is trying to return to office. But she's up against Joe Hardy, a well-known Republican in a district that's strongly GOP.

In Assembly District 15, former Republican Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren faces an uphill battle against Assemblywoman Kathy McClain, D-Las Vegas -- with the double advantage of incumbency and a Democratic registration edge.

Two incumbents face one another as a result of remapping in the Reno area's Assembly District 30. Republican Don Gustavson is up against Democrat Debbie Smith -- and Smith has a strong voter registration margin.

In Assembly District 24, Assemblywoman Vivian Freeman, D-Reno, has a tough fight on her hands, with Republican Jason Geddes opposing her. Freeman has a registration edge, but it's a slight one.

Rural Nevada's representatives in the Assembly could be drastically different depending on the outcome of a few races.

Democrat Joe Dini of Yerington, Assembly speaker for a record eight times, retired. His son, George Dini, is trying to keep the family name alive in the Assembly -- but he's up against well-known Republican Tom Grady -- in strongly GOP District 38.

Assemblywoman Marcia de Braga, D-Fallon, is seeking re-election in rural Assembly District 36 -- but it's also strongly Republican and she's up against the GOP's Pete Goicoechea, a longtime rancher and local elected official in the area.

Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, is up for re-election in a revised Assembly District 32 -- challenged by a conservative Republican, Michael Weber, who's arguing that most of the district's voters are now from the Reno area, where he lives. No Democrats filed for the seat.

No Republicans or splinter party candidates filed against Democratic incumbents in three southern Nevada Assembly races, meaning the incumbents are certain winners.

In a fourth race, a win is all but certain for the Democratic incumbent, Ellen Koivisto in Las Vegas-based Assembly District 14. She drew two challengers, independent "Buffalo Jim" Barrier and Republican Richard Gardner -- and Gardner's name turned up on a list of registered felons months after he filed for office.

As a result of his sex crime conviction, which resulted in 15 years' probation, Gardner isn't eligible to vote. In the unlikely event that he wins on Nov. 5, Clark County officials would sue to invalidate the results.


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