Handful of competitive primaries could shape GOP chances to gain Assembly ground

Even with more than half of their members not returning to the Legislature, Assembly Republicans are feeling confident heading toward the 2023 session that they can capture more seats in a chamber historically dominated by Democrats, although a GOP majority looks unlikely. 

Democrats in 2021 controlled 26 of the 42 seats in the Assembly, down from a high of 29 seats controlled after the 2018 “blue wave” midterm elections. The magic number in the Assembly is 28 — that’s the number of seats required for a two-thirds majority, which greases the skids for any tax increases or procedural maneuvers requiring a “supermajority” vote.

But 2022 will also see significant turnover in the Assembly — a total of 14 incumbents are not running for re-election, according to Ballotpedia, which is nearly a third of the 42 seats — and top leadership positions among Democrats and Republicans are open. It’s the highest rate of open seats since at least 2010.

Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) is widely expected to be the next leader of the Assembly Democrats following Speaker Jason Frierson’s (D-Las Vegas) confirmation to the post of U.S. attorney. Yeager reported raising more than $93,000 in the first three months of 2022 and has nearly $430,000 in cash on hand.

With most Republican caucus leaders not returning to the Assembly, eyes are turning to newer members such as freshman Assemblywoman Heidi Kasama (R-Las Vegas) to take the reins. Kasama is the frontrunner in Las Vegas’ Assembly District 2 race, with more than $120,000 in cash on hand heading into the primary.

Roughly nine of the 42 Assembly districts feature competitive primary races, including five races where the primary election results will likely determine the general election outcome.

Several Democratic primaries this year feature a mix of Assembly caucus-endorsed candidates running against teacher union-backed candidates.

Only two of the legislative races failed to draw more than one candidate – Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) and Republican Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen (R-Sparks) will run unopposed for re-election.

Because of their status far down the ballot, legislative races are among the most likely to be affected by a possible red wave in the wake of rising inflation, high gas prices and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings. With less information available on legislative candidates than those running for higher offices, many people will vote for a candidate based on party affiliation. Party-line voting preferences mean that in Republican and Democratic-majority districts, the primaries will determine the candidate most likely to win in the November general election and indicate whether Republicans are competitive in swing districts.