LAS VEGAS — Republicans riding a nationwide conservative wave blasted past their own wildest expectations Tuesday, seizing a broad majority in the Nevada Assembly and turning the legislative balance of power on its head.
Republicans took 25 seats in the lower house, while Democrats held 17. The numbers are a near flip of the previous party breakdown — a 27-15 Democrat advantage that was considered nearly insurmountable for the GOP just days earlier.
Republicans’ initial goal was to capture a slim majority in the formerly Democrat-controlled Nevada Senate. They pulled it off easily on Tuesday night, winning three competitive Senate races including the seat held by Democratic state Sen. Justin Jones.
“While I won’t be serving in the state Legislature, I will not give up fighting for the causes I believe in,” Jones said in his concession statement.
A majority in both houses will give Republicans power to save and kill bills in committee and shepherd Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval’s agenda through the Legislature.
Democrats fought hardest to save the District 9 seat held by Jones, a Las Vegas lawmaker who won his last election by 301 votes and faced a challenge from Republican attorney Becky Harris.
Jones was vulnerable after sponsoring a bill that would have required background checks on gun purchases. It passed the Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2013, but was vetoed by Sandoval and became a rallying cry among gun-rights proponents.
His loss was a disappointment for supporters including Las Vegas resident and nursing student Claudia Tang, 26, who followed Jones on social media and appreciated his empathetic positions on gay rights.
“I was hoping that Democrats would maintain Nevada,” Tang said. “But I’m not crying.”
Well-funded state Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson beat Democratic challenger Teresa Lowry, and will likely switch his title to majority leader.
Republicans also won a competitive Clark County seat held by termed-out Republican Barbara Cegavske, who ran for and won secretary of state. Legislative newcomer Patricia Farley beat veteran Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, who was seeking a promotion to the upper house.
“Despite the results, I remain humbled by the number of people in District 8 who gave me their support at the polls,” Dondero Loop said.
All seats were up for grabs in the Assembly, where lawmakers serve two-year terms. Six incumbent Democrats lost their bids for re-election, including legislative veterans Jason Frierson, Paul Aizley and Richard “Skip” Daly, and one-termers Andy Eisen, Lesley Cohen and James Healey.
Two candidates who were declared ineligible for their seats but remained on the ballot also lost.
In mid-October, a judge declared Democrat Meghan Smith ineligible for the District 34 seat because she didn’t meet residency requirements, and signs were posted at polling places to warn voters that she was technically disqualified even though her name is still on the ballot.
Last week, a judge declared a second Democratic Assembly candidate, Jesse “Jake” Holder, ineligible for the District 10 seat. The ruling came by default because Holder showed up late to a court hearing challenging his residency.
The seats weren’t a given for Smith’s challenger, Republican Victoria Seaman, or Holder’s challenger, Republican Shelly Shelton. If the ineligible candidates garnered more votes than Shelton or Seaman, the Assembly could have selected candidates of its choice for the seats, and that could theoretically have been Smith or Holder.
Also on the losing end was Republican Lauren Scott, who would have become the first openly transgender person to serve in a state Legislature. She lost to incumbent Mike Sprinkle in a largely Democratic district in Sparks.
The shift in power from years of Democratic control will mean big changes in the 2015 legislative session.
“Education’s going to be huge,” said Nick Phillips, political director of the Clark County GOP. “Republicans agree that things need to be fixed and changed, but we have different ideas about how they should be changed.”