As the nation has eyes on Nevada’s key Senate race, between incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Republican nominee Adam Laxalt there are some nuances at play with longer implications for the Republican brand. Nevada is not just a battleground, it is a testing ground. Its demographics and dynamics are the reason Nevada is propelled to compete for first in the nation voting, while its electoral contribution is slim and its congressional influence is a mere four house members, next to our neighboring California’s 52. The Silver State is also of importance because of outsized economic hardships experienced in pandemic shutdowns, setting an all-time US record for unemployment with basically a swipe of Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak’s pen, followed by an extremely mismanaged pandemic aid program, and critical educational losses in a state ranked near-last for the last decade. It’s the wild card state, and what we are seeing now has gravity beyond 2022 midterm outcomes, which is really what is at stake in Nevada.
First, I would like to take you back to November 3, 2020. It was election night, and into the next morning, I would find myself at the Clark County Election Department as an observer, not that I could “observe” much of anything. Something had happened in America, vote counting stalled and the nation’s attention turned to the states that had not reported results, especially any state considered a swing or a battleground. I was fielding calls and messages from friends across the country asking what was going on in Clark County, Nevada. They wanted to know if they could anticipate our electoral votes going to Donald Trump, and I just happened to have a front-row seat, 20ish feet and two visual obstructions away from a small window where I could see nobody’s hands and hear nobody’s words. At least for those in close contact with me, I could put them out of the agony weeks ahead of Clark having ballot totals. I nervously laughed them off: “If America is counting on Clark County, we are screwed.”
Republicans in Nevada do not expect to win Clark County, where most of our population resides in Las Vegas. For Republicans in Clark, we don’t even feel it is our job to win the county. Our part of the effort is to keep it close, don’t let it be a blow-out. Ideally, the rurals will carry what is needed to get us past the finish line, if the second most populous county of Washoe is… a wash. If all of the counties do not do exactly that, we generally lose. There are anomalies, of course. The Democrats have the opposite playbook, win Clark bigly, something-something Washoe, lose everywhere else. So, while Clark is not a winning county for Republicans, the importance of it is for all the marbles anyway.
The biggest group of voters in Nevada is the nonpartisan or independent group. They decide the elections. If either major party turned out 100 percent of their voters (who aren’t deceased) it still wouldn’t be enough without the nonpartisan lift. This is really the crux of why Nevada is purple, while its current politics are some of the most hyper-partisan rubber stamping I have ever seen. The partisans are partisan; it’s just that the state isn’t partisan. So while I am happy to report our Republican candidates at the top of the ticket are all leading in the polls, not with margins of comfort certainly, the name of the game is voter turnout. In Clark County, that is not going well. Not for one side or the other, but on the whole, and remembering that most people sit on neither side of the aisle.
NBC ran this headline: Nevada Democrats see signs of nightmare scenario: Latino voters staying home. Luckily, Masto didn’t take my free-of-charge observation that her all-in on abortion campaign was missing the mark, especially with Hispanic voters’ (estimated 20 percent of all voter turnout for midterms) top concern being the economy. Meanwhile, the so-called “Harry Reid Machine” is being tested in the wake of the Democratic Party juggernaut’s death. Masto can be considered Reid’s protégé, but she lost a bid to chair the state’s Democrat Party which was instead taken over by a progressive and unabashedly socialist slate. This caused some inter-party squabbles and maneuvering, and from my purview as an outsider to their party, the monies are being routed through Washoe, to circumvent the socialist takeover in party leadership. The implications of that I can only guess at, but I like to think it means their resources and think-tanking are a cool seven hours away from the most important battleground county.
In the Harry Reid coalition, the union powers and their footwork are an important ingredient. The state’s most powerful union, the Culinary Union, is canvassing for Democrats (not that I checked all of their endorsements, it’s just I don’t have to do that to know what they are about)… but with reports that 10,000 culinary union members are still out of work, about 20 percent, there are signs of being less than enthused. One sign came as Governor Sisolak made two stops to rally union members in just a few weeks. I reported on the late September stop, but he doubled down on the cringe-chanting again just a few days ago.
Unions built Nevada and the middle class.
— Steve Sisolak (@SteveSisolak) September 25, 2022
— Chuck Muth (@ChuckMuth) October 6, 2022
As the great political mind of a friend and personally esteemed figure, Chuck Muth, points out,
“Appears somebody is still trying to nail down his OWN base.”
As you can see, there are some perfect storm scenarios going on here and I wish that was my entire point… but wait, there’s more!
For Republicans, we have our own obstacles. An ongoing issue is candidate quality, but not in the exact same sense as what McConnell said when he used the phrase. We have no shortage of that flavor of a problem, a concession I am willing to make to the merits of the Reid Machine is that as the name implies, they cranked out an assembly line of candidates and ran a tight ship. Republicans do not yet boast a comparable operation, which is why we had about 15 candidates in the primary for Governor and too many spoilers in the races overall to even properly lay blame. But we do have quality candidates making up a strong, leading ticket. The more nuanced quality issue I am pointing at is really two-fold. The candidates do not always reflect the true sentiments of the party’s base and in turn damage the Republican brand fairly publicly when they do the establishmentarian things we never asked for. In viewing this issue, readers should note that the Republicans in Nevada tend to lean more libertarian compared to Republican ideology in other states.
The primary example speaks to why we have basically no political power in the state currently, after holding the Governor’s seat for 10 years. In 2015, under Governor Sandoval (R) and a GOP legislative majority, the state passed the commerce tax, the largest tax increase in Nevada’s history. In turn, the Republican base voted them all out, basically. But it isn’t Republicans that decide elections, so larger sentiments had to also exist among nonpartisans. This is where the brand becomes damaged, what can be portrayed as a Republican revolt is more than likely also a nonpartisan vote of no confidence. And, pending midterms, we have not recovered.
At the same time, the faction associated with then-Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson (R) is still up to their brand-damaging antics. Today you can find his name on the Democrat Attorney General Arron Ford’s re-election website, among the “Republicans for Ford” coalition. I wrote about it here: Betraying the Base: Rogue GOP Faction Aims to Elect Democrats in Nevada… Again.
With brand/quality issues, some Republicans are left uninspired. I wrote about how Trump’s trip to Las Vegas right after the primary was in an effort of party unity and noted he did not interject any voter integrity talking points we are accustomed to hearing from him. The reason I believe he left out the voting issue is that the nominee, Sheriff Joe Lombardo (R), had beaten out Joey Gilbert (R) in the primary, and Gilbert was not conceding the race. He went on to do a recount in Clark County along with other litigation and focuses on voter integrity issues heavily. Gilbert was the grassroots guy, these are the most active party members (compared to our beloved retirees), and many non-partisan voters had changed their registration just to cast a vote for him. Gilbert did very well considering he did not have the advantage of name recognition a role like Sheriff gives a candidate and he had never run as a candidate before, either.
Gilbert won 14 of 17 counties, and the ones he lost came as a surprise. Overall, he won 27.6 percent of the vote to Lombardo’s 38.4 percent, again, making spoilers of the other 13 candidates. He lost in rural Nye County and Washoe, which is his home base coming as a shock to many supporters. But as we know, if you lose Clark by enough and Washoe, there is little hope to pull out in the lead. Last week, Gilbert made headlines when he backed the GOP ticket, including his former rival, Joe Lombardo.
Gilbert tells RedState,
“Some of the everyday people that have never voted or have never been in politics I am hopeful will see this as the reason for the motivation necessary to get to the polls. I have had zero negative feedback, however, I’ve had a few people say that no matter what they’re still not voting and that’s unfortunate because we need everybody to vote in November to remove Steve Sisolak and a number of other corrupt career politicians. I think anybody who’s been on the fence can agree that while Joe Lombardo and I don’t see eye to eye on everything, we definitely believe Steve Sisolak has to go and I don’t think there’s anyone who disagrees with that.”
Voter Integrity: A double-edged sword
I commend Gilbert for seeing the bigger picture and imploring his supporters to vote. But, even in his statement, he realizes the issues with a refusal of civic engagement, even now with Republicans leading and voter turnout being the sole factor at this juncture. This brings me to my final consideration, aside from the candidates that fail to inspire the libertarian views of grassroots Republicans, the voter integrity issue leaves others to feel like their vote doesn’t matter or refusing to cast a ballot is an act of protest against a system they lost confidence in.
Even I have my reservations about that system, stemming from my experience at the Clark County Elections Department as the sham show of “observation” will attest to. I believe there are other problems — I just do not know personally if these are outcome-influencing issues in this county specifically, a county I expect to lose after all. I cannot speak to everyone else’s elections. I wasn’t at your elections department, I was at mine. But I, too, have my concerns and system qualms, especially when voter confidence is so low. What I do know is if people aren’t voting, that is an outcome-influencing problem. The wild card on this issue is that we have universal mail ballots. So people refusing or just less inspired to vote, literally have a ballot in their hands which brings more questions than answers for what behaviors to anticipate. We also have legalized ballot harvesting, previously a felony, which will bring a new frontier in Get Out The Vote initiatives, at minimum.
The best-case scenario for Republicans in Nevada is that we win, of course, and our next initiative is brand protection because a repeat of any 2015 antics will have consequences that I am unprepared to think about. A loss will have similar implications to brand tarnishing, sparking a suspected dark age of civic participation. The issue of lack of engagement is compounded by the transient nature of Las Vegas itself, an issue that causes incumbents to constantly have to re-introduce themselves. Also, if people plan to move in the near future, they do not take the time to participate in civic activities — there is no juice in that squeeze.
What we are left with is an extremely consequential election not only for the rest of the nation’s conservatives looking at Nevada to provide them with a Senator, but the rather uninspired voters who are deciding if the state will be the most important or unimportant testing ground in politics. This is potentially cutting out the work for the next decade for political hopefuls… well the ones who don’t just leave.
The conversation in Nevada needs to be about anything but poll numbers, and Republicans should replace their temporary confidence in nominal leads with an urgency close to absolute panic. I’m far less scared of losing than I am of what happens after the nation averts its eyes. Republicans in Nevada, this is your call to action. Americans, the eye of the storm is in Nevada and this is not a drill.