- Associated Press - Monday, March 21, 2016

LAS VEGAS (AP) - The battle for a majority in the Nevada Legislature is coming into focus after a deadline passed Friday for candidates to get their name on the ballot, with Democrats eager to reverse their devastating losses in 2014 and Republicans trying to guide moderate incumbents past droves of anti-tax challengers to keep their all-important majority position.

Assembly Democrats are in a 17-25 minority, but think they can win the five seats they need to control the lower house because of their registration advantages in nine Republican-held districts. Senate leaders see three or four races in play that could alter the 11-10 Republican majority.

A look at races and issues that will come into play:

TRUMP AND TAXES



The outcome will depend on national currents for and against Donald Trump, as well as whether voters see the tax package and education initiatives ushered in by a Republican-led Legislature last session as a boon, a betrayal or something else.

“I think we had an incredibly important session,” said Republican Sen. Becky Harris, who’s leading the charge to maintain the GOP’s Senate majority. “We’ve shown a Republican-led caucus has a lot to offer.”

Democrats were on board with the push to increase taxes, but they lacked the leverage to pass their own policy goals, such as raising the minimum wage. They hope to get back in the driver’s seat by highlighting their ideas and exploiting deep divides in the Republican Party over taxes and Trump.

“Everyone should be required to either disavow or admit whether they’re going to support … a xenophobic racist leading the top of the ticket,” said Senate Democratic leader Aaron Ford.

One of the biggest battles will be for the Las Vegas-area seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Mark Lipparelli. Democrats have endorsed prosecutor Nicole Canizzarro, but are also fanning the flames of a heated primary between Republican Assembly members Erv Nelson, a tax package supporter, and Victoria Seaman, who voted against it.

SEATS THAT COULD SWITCH

In the Reno area, the parties are fighting over a seat that’s open after Republican Sen. Greg Brower took a job in Washington D.C. Republicans hope to bring back former lawmaker and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s ex-chief of staff Heidi Gansert, while Democrats are banking on attorney Devon Reese.

While she wasn’t in the Legislature to vote on the tax package in 2015, Democrats have been trying to pin her down on whether she would’ve done so - a commitment that could weaken her against anti-tax Republican primary challenger Eugene Hoover.

Democrats are playing defense to keep Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, a former principal, in her narrowly Democratic, Henderson-area district against Republican challenger and charter school principal Carrie Buck.

They also have their eyes on Republican Sen. Scott Hammond’s Las Vegas-area seat, which leans just slightly Republican. Hammond faces a primary challenge from Brian Wilson, an ally of tax foe and Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, and Democrats have endorsed attorney Alexander Marks for the seat.

On the Assembly side, Democrats expect to reclaim three districts where they have a wide registration advantage but lost due to the “red wave” of the 2014 election or when their candidates’ eligibility came under question.

They’re counting on former Assemblyman Jason Frierson to bounce back from his 40-vote loss and oust Republican-turned-Libertarian Assemblyman John Moore. They hope energy consultant Chris Brooks will triumph over stridently anti-tax Republican Assemblywoman Shelly Shelton, and are endorsing Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod to take the seat Seaman is leaving to run for Senate.

PLAYING DEFENSE

Republicans are mounting an aggressive campaign to defend incumbents who took risks to support the tax package from the many primary challengers. Their top priorities include defending Carson City Republican P.K. O’Neill and Pahrump Republican Assemblyman James Oscarson, who supported the tax package, from anti-tax fervor in their rural home districts.

They’re also intent on ousting Republican Assemblyman Brent Jones from his swing district and replacing him with fellow Republican business owner Tiffany Jones. Brent Jones, the lone Trump endorser in the Legislature, is known for opposing taxes, Common Core and the state health exchange, and has recruited a slate of anti-tax candidates to run against his Assembly colleagues.

His own son, Blain Jones, is mounting a primary campaign against Republican Assemblyman Derek Armstrong, who was instrumental in developing the final tax package and is a close ally of Republican Assembly Majority Leader Paul Anderson.

“A guy that doesn’t represent his district is trying to force his ideology on every other district,” said Anderson. “We’re playing in Democratic districts. We have to swing Democratic votes. If you have someone who cannot resonate on the Democratic side at all, we’ll have a hard time.”

Anderson said he hopes a laser focus on the most critical districts and his candidates’ efforts to personally meet voters will help overcome larger trends favoring Democrats this cycle.

“I love being the underdog,” Anderson said. “The Assembly has control over its own destiny simply because it’s a shoe leather campaign.”

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