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Democrats Gamble With Their Nevada Gerrymander

Nevada could have played it safe during the most recent redistricting process. But this is the home of Las Vegas, baby! So instead, by attempting to give two congressional Democrats a more favorable district, Nevada Democrats may have put all three of their current seats at risk.


Nathaniel Rakich: People make risky decisions in Nevada every day. Going all-in on that poker hand. Getting married to someone you just met. Even drawing the state’s new congressional maps.

When you think about gerrymandering, you might think about a party drawing safer seats for itself. And a lot of the time, that’s true. Looking at you, Texas. But remember: the ultimate goal of gerrymandering is to win more seats, not to win seats by bigger margins.

So when Democrats set out to redraw Nevada’s four congressional districts, they could have virtually guaranteed that Nevada would elect at least two Democratic representatives by drawing two safely blue seats. But they decided to roll the dice and draw three less secure Democratic seats instead.

Nevada’s old congressional map had one solidly blue district around downtown Las Vegas surrounded by two competitive but Republican-leaning districts in the suburbs. The new map, though, “unpacks” that downtown district and redistributes many of its Democratic voters to the two suburban districts. That leaves all three districts with small pro-Democratic leans.

That’s a high-risk, high-reward setup for Democrats. In most elections under the new map, we’d expect Democrats to win all three seats around Las Vegas, while Republicans would win only the 2nd District in rural northern Nevada. But in a “red wave” election, the map could severely backfire on Democrats: It would just take a 5-percentage-point Republican overperformance for the GOP to hit the jackpot and win all four of Nevada’s House seats.

Because of that, not all Democrats are happy with the map, starting with Congresswoman Dina Titus, who represents the solid-blue district that was sacrificed to help her neighbors. At a recent town hall, she said, quote, “I totally got ****** by the legislature on my district.”

The map also deals a bad hand to Nevada’s Latinos, who make up more than 25 percent of its adult population. Under the old map, Latinos had a significant say in who represented downtown Las Vegas, as 41 percent of the old district’s adult population was Hispanic. But no district in the new map has a Hispanic adult population above 32 percent.

With the 2022 midterms shaping up to be a good election for Republicans, this Democratic gerrymander in Nevada will be put to the test right away. If Democrats hold onto all those very light-blue seats even in the face of a potential “red wave,” they’re probably going to stay in Democratic hands for the entire decade. But if Republicans run the table, Democrats may wake up on November 9 with one hell of a hangover.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Tony Chow is a video producer for FiveThirtyEight.

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