Local political races look for lessons in Tuesday's elections results

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam celebrates his election victory with his wife Pam and daughter Aubrey, right, and Dorothy McAuliffe, wife of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at the Northam For Governor election night party at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

“I think last night was a great night for Democrats, and we’re going to carry that forward into next year,” Donna West, chairperson of the Clark County Democratic Party, told me Wednesday, the day after her party swept some high-profile off-year elections nationwide.

No place was more closely watched than Virginia, where suburban voters soundly rejected a GOP gubernatorial candidate who embraced President Trump’s full-throated war on cultural issues.

Next year, Nevada will be in the spotlight, not only for a hotly contested house race in Congressional District 3, but most importantly for one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate contests in the nation. Dean Heller hopes to be on the November ballot, but first he has to beat back a primary challenge from fellow Republican Danny Tarkanian.

Here's Heller's challenge, according to UNLV political science expert Michael Green.

“Heller, in this case, has the problem of tacking to the right to appeal to the base for the primary, and then, if he gets through the primary, how does he then get back those suburban voters,” Green says.

RELATED | Virginia rejects 'Trumpism' as Dems score major wins

It didn't work well for Virginia's Ed Gillespie, who found his late-inning far right turn backfired in Virginia's urban areas.

Gillespie lost, and not by a little.

And as Nevada Democrats see it, that's not the only takeaway that should land on our senior senator's doorstep.

“Nevada voters feel a lot like Virginia voters,” says West. “I believe that the voters, especially in Virginia, are very concerned about health care, and losing their health care coverage, and I think that puts Senator Heller in a very precarious position.”

Exit polls Tuesday said health care was Virginia's No. 1 issue. Over the summer, Heller tried to thread the health care needle, against one repeal bill, in favor of another.

“Dean Heller doesn't have true convictions. He keeps changing his positions based upon who he's speaking in front of,” says Tarkanian. His campaign released a poll a couple weeks ago claiming Tarkanian is in front. The poll, by JMC Analytics, said Tarkanian was at 44 percent, Heller at 38 percent, with 17 percent undecided.

RELATED | Tarkanian jumps in GOP U.S. Senate race, giving Heller a primary challenge

But keep in mind: it's early – Our primary is seven months away. While Nevada and Virginia both went Clinton one year ago, today, they're different shades of purple: Clinton won by two points here and five points there.

The Heller campaign told me Wednesday it is not concerned about any ramifications the Virginia contest may have here. A statement by spokesperson Keith Schipper ignored Tarkanian, instead taking on Tuesday night’s Democratic surge in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere.

“Democrats are fighting to stop us from confirming conservative judges and they are trying to stop us from cutting taxes. We will overcome them on both fronts,” says Schipper.

And don't forget one other point: Heller has never lost.

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