Everything That Went Wrong in Nevada

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

It’s election season hangover time in Nevada. Right now is the time that Republicans rush to point fingers in the aftermath, as the dust settles on a Senate seat called by 5,000 votes out of one million ballots cast. What went wrong? Well, a lot of things. Almost everything. 


“Candidate Quality”

In Senator Mitch McConnell’s infamous quote on candidate quality, Adam Laxalt, the GOP challenger to Catherine Cortez Masto still makes for a Trump-endorsed outlier. The fact is, he almost won, he could have won, and it proves he wasn’t a bad candidate, although I’m willing to argue Captain Sam Brown, who got fleeced in the primary, would have done better. And, Masto proponents knew it. Insiders know of instances where Democrats concerned with losing the vulnerable Masto seat re-registered as Republicans to cast votes for Laxalt in the primary, afraid to face Captain Sam Brown. I know it happened, I was told so as a boast by a contact close to Masto’s campaign. My response was, “Doesn’t that violate the spirit of the closed primary?” Of course, it does. They just don’t care.

I mention the Captain Sam Brown situation because the main reason we lost races was candidate quality. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t wrong. Although I’ll repeat that Laxalt was an outlier as far as candidate quality criticisms, I think there are other factors at play when we look specifically at Laxalt. But, the candidate quality issue was proved in our down-ballot races.

The main reason for even bothering to note what lessons can be learned when we have almost a million Nevadans telling us something about what they want to see in their representatives is that Republicans are knee-jerking on issues of voter fraud. And, I won’t say there is zero fraud. But, as I have awaited the counts from Clark County and endured the commentary from across the nation, I know that (even though the Registrar, Joe Gloria, is one of my least-favorite bureaucrats) the timelines are statutory. They didn’t “sandbag” anything. Indeed, this is the stupidity set up by our legislature.

I agree with Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton when he cites SCOTUS saying mail-in ballots are a security issue.The problem is, when claims of fraud surface in place of any accountability for Republicans missing the target, it’s a refusal to learn anything and a prelude to another loss. I might circle back and address anything that went afoul at a later time, but I strongly encourage you to see the forest through the trees, especially in Nevada’s aftermath.

Candidate quality is the central reason we lost many races. No, it isn’t because these are bad people. I know many of the candidates personally, but my relationships do not suffice to replace public perceptions. Sigal Chattah ran for Attorney General, I can tell you that she’s fun-loving and hilarious (not that it’s a merit of the job). Voters saw something else. She was perceived as “radical,” and she was painted that way. Voters saw a Trump-esque figure; I saw the woman who won the churches fair treatment by way of legal challenge. And, she’s very much a firebrand, which is the kind of woman I relate to. I’m not looking for meek women to lead… I mention Chattah because I know both sides. I know personhood and candidacy.

Ls & Ws

Other statewide seats were lost and the trend is clear: Controversy killed the candidates. All of the “red-meat” candidates lost. Jim Marchant (R) for Secretary of State, Michelle Fiore (R) for Treasurer, Chattah for Attorney General, and Laxalt got splashed on, too. Full disclosure: I voted for Richard Scotti (R) for this exact reason in the primary; also he might be my attorney. But, with Scotti, we couldn’t overcome the appetite of the GOP base, which has proven to be extremely disconnected from the voters in the general election. I consider this to be short-sightedness by Republicans.

AP/Reuters Feed Library

But let’s look at the GOP winners. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo (R) ousted incumbent Governor Steve Sisolak (D). Lombardo had a couple of advantages. One, Sisolak was extremely unpopular, due to economic devastation mandated through executive orders which hold no power to direct the public, anyway. Sisolak managed to even lose the endorsements of the public sector, including CCEA, the teacher’s union. That’s… impressively bad. Lombardo is from the state’s most populous county, Clark, and is known to voters as the Sheriff, a non-partisan seat. Lombardo isn’t seen as “radical” in the least. Aside from the conclusion that the state wanted a change from Sisolak and this election being a referendum on the Governor’s treatment of free humans during the pandemic, Lombardo boasted a sound platform. Economic opportunity and diversity, public safety, and education reform. Solid. He even included Voter ID, which is a sane measure in election security.

Another big winner was Andy Matthews (R), who won the Controller seat with the second most votes of any candidate on the ballot. He was an Assemblyman previously, who isn’t “moderate” ideologically, but conservative and principled. He is in no way controversial. I ran into him at the watch-party shindig and told Matthews that hands-down it was the easiest decision on the ballot, and I wasn’t stumped on much of anything, to begin with. I hate to do “I told you so” antics and chest-thumping, except I just wasn’t wrong about that. Plus, candidates should have the benefit of hearing encouraging things when their mission for the night is to face the judgment of the opinions of a million strangers. Hats off, he clobbered ’em while being sort of milquetoast, buttoned-up, and fiercely principled on economics. Republicans are not too scary for Nevadans, so long as they aren’t… too scary. Stavros Anthony (R) also won Lieutenant Governor, which I decided not to separately report on because, well, he’s kind of a boring candidate. (Sorry.) A boring and successful candidate, that is.

The Trump Effect

Using those examples, you can see what went awry. Anyone who was painted as, or leaned too hard right in branding, lost. Laxalt did get splashed on by that imagery, too. He was a Trump-backed candidate, but not a questionable Trump pick, as far as that list goes. For the GOP base, they don’t see Laxalt as some far-right figure, even if he was a lawyer on ‘lection integrity thangs. His Communications Director was in Washington DC on January 6, but so were a lot of people, including one of our assembly members, one of the Libertarians on the ticket (more on that later), and a bunch of other people who didn’t break any laws by attending a rally. But, the Laxalt campaign didn’t combat these perceptions. While having the “MAGA Extremist” attack label branded to him, the Laxalt campaign mostly ignored those claims, from what I saw.


Read More: The Anatomy of Anti-MAGA. 

Trump held an early invite-only rally in Las Vegas soon after the primary. My take was that this was an attempt at party unification after the grassroots types in the party base lost the primary bid for Joey Gilbert who, per Trump-branding dogma, would probably have been better suited for the endorsement, if the long-game of actually… winning… in a purple state wasn’t a factor. Trump held another rally in rural Minden, Nevada in early October. Meanwhile, unpopular Biden was not seen on the campaign trail with Democrats in the Silver State.

And, in the face of combatting, or not, the perceptions that cost GOP races statewide, did Trump pony up the resources for his picks?

From CNN in mid-October:

Trump has spent the past several months facing intense pressure from fellow Republicans to boost his financial investments in critical midterm races amid frustrations that he was sitting on a mountain of unused cash that could make a difference in races that are likely to be won on the margins. It wasn’t until his new super PAC released a series of campaign ads earlier this month that GOP allies finally had their wish granted.

All together, Trump’s allies expect his midterm spending to stretch into the tens of millions by Election Day, including the $8.4 million his Save America leadership PAC has previously given to candidates and committees this cycle.

That would still be a fraction of what some other Republican groups have committed to spending in the 2022 cycle.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a group linked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is on track to spend more than $196 million in digital and television advertising this cycle, according to data from AdImpact, while the Club for Growth’s campaign arm has spent more than $10 million in Nevada alone to boost Senate GOP hopeful Adam Laxalt, in addition to millions in other races.

While there is a lot of criticism floating around about party leadership, McConnell did spend in the race and was likely bogged down by the high allocations put toward Trump-backed JD Vance in Ohio. McConnell isn’t a personal ideological hero of mine by any measure, but as far as doing Senate Majority activities, I don’t hold criticisms there. Nevada was always a race that would be won on the margins, it was the wild card. Like… we might have come along for a “red wave,” or we might have waved at the GOP from the beach. This is why, while Nevada begs to be first in the nation for voting for presidential nominees, we are near-last in the nation at giving election results, and also at the bottom of the priority spending list. We are a solid maybe, year after year. We clearly could do it, and save the day, but then… we don’t. Taken with the fact we account for a mere four congressional seats total, the down-ballot advantage is also just not there.


Did Nevada matter? Apparently, a lot. But not enough to make sure we didn’t lose by half a point.

A 5,000 vote margin out of almost a million ballots is hard to swallow, it’s not a blow-out, we were on target and then the wind blew. What was that wind? I hate to say it. I think it was Trump.

Mailer for Adam Laxalt paid for by Nevada Republican Party (Credit: Brittany Sheehan)

The above mailer was sent to me as a registered Republican, so don’t take it as branding used for other types of targeted voters. I included it to demonstrate the Trump lean-in. Also, note the information provided encourages Election Day voting, although while found in a trove of political mailers, I couldn’t tell you if this was received after the early voting period concluded. We will add that to the circle-back list along with the Libertarian Party candidate down-ballot. But first, Trump.

I think Trump’s election-eve antics did cost the GOP. How did we even end up with bumbling Biden as POTUS? It was a referendum on Trump. Trump was not supposed to be on the ballot this year in Nevada, but somehow he was. And, attacking Flordia Governor Ron DeSantis (R), stirring up headlines, and hinting at a presidential election announcement energized last-minute mail ballot Democrat voters for referendum part two. And who was the top-of-the-ticket Trump guy? It was Laxalt.

Meanwhile, the GOP base in Nevada doesn’t perceive him that way at all. But, like with Chattah, public perception is what matters. Laxalt isn’t a fire-brand, he’s not radical… he’s from a political family. His grandfather, Paul Laxalt, was a Nevada Governor and U.S. Senator. Some local Republicans will tell you he was raised in Virginia, meaning they don’t see him as “Battle Born,” the state motto. I don’t care about those nuances, I note them to tell you Laxalt isn’t this random guy indoctrinated by extremist kool-aid in the trenches of some patriot protest who is likely to end up on some no-fly list. He was the Nevada Attorney General. He is more of an establishment insider than an “extremist.”

AP/Reuters Feed Library

FILE – In this April, 1981 file photo, Senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), appears on ABC’s Good Morning America television show in Washington. Laxalt, the conservative Republican who rose to political power as a Nevada governor, U.S. senator and close ally to Ronald Reagan has died at age 96. A public relations firm says he died Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, at a health care facility in Virginia. (AP Photo, File)

So while GOP leadership is pelted with criticism, there isn’t a single person who can talk Trump off a ledge. Had we taken a poll asking Republicans if they thought Trump should make critiques of DeSantis the day before his easily-won re-election or flirt at a presidential bid, everyone would have said hell no. But, Trump gonna Trump. Live by the sword… lose elections by the sword.


GOP Voter Mentality

Now back to those ballots. Republicans are death-gripping them until Election Day. In Maricopa County, that meant plenty of their votes went into the infamous “Box 3,” but in Nevada, that means some people stood in lines in rain and snow. It means that our base isn’t getting out the vote, ballot harvesting (legal here), and other campaign and election day operations. It means the media is reporting early vote wins by Democrats and creating momentum. It means that election integrity rhetoric is disenfranchising would-be voters who the last thing they would do is throw a last-minute ballot in the mail. But, the Democrats will, and they did.

There is a cost of waiting until the last day to see if it is “enough.” It wasn’t, by a couple of thousand votes all the way down the ballot.

Spoiler Alert

And, that Libertarian Party bit? Mindy Robinson, a former Republican ran as a Libertarian in Assembly 35. Republican Tiffany Jones lost by 305 votes, eaten up by Robinson’s three percent take. Just enough votes to be a spoiler and not a contender.

Gilbert, who is a grassroots leader in the state, supported Robinson over the Republican nominee. I was not vocal on opposing this trainwreck, because while I maintain good Libertarian relationships (unless it’s election season), any criticism of support for Robinson would have been seen as personally-motivated, and not because of… flippin’ math, folks. So, to avoid some crazy personal drama, I told people who asked me directly to vote for Jones. Since Republicans supporting Republicans would have been so misconstrued, and because impactful voices made an exception for the red-meat candidates Nevadans didn’t want… we now have a super-minority in the Assembly. By 305 votes. 

Nonpartisan Libre Action of Nevada did its part and supported Jones, a group I have volunteered with. 

And, it’s not the Libertarian Party’s fault either. Robinson marches to the beat of her own drum; she’s the quintessential can tell me nothin’ candidate. Yet, she somehow walked back from being the spoiler in April Becker’s (R) CD3 race, (which was lost inevitably) by some act of God or moment of clarity. 

An early endorsement of Becker landed me in hot water when Robinson let loose her internet fan base on me, even though we were considered friends at the time, in real life. I know as well as anyone what kind of ridiculous backlash comes with opposition to anything Mindy-adjacent, and I’ve stuck my neck out before in very public squabbles over something as asinine as Republicans endorsing Republicans.

Facebook posts and messages with Mindy Robinson discussing an early endorsement of her forecasted opponent in NV3, April Becker, July 2021 (Credit: Brittany Sheehan)

It’s a relevant backstory because Republican Gilbert didn’t endorse the Republican Jones but instead, the not-Republican Robinson. So again, it’s not my first round with this battle, a year-and-a-half ago, I was doing the same over endorsing Becker, as the obvious front-runner and… a Republican. Internet Republicans then decided to break the cardinal rule of political civility and make the conversation about my children. My consolation prize for doing the right thing, of course.

Facebook posts and messages with Mindy Robinson discussing an early endorsement of her forecasted opponent in NV3, April Becker, July 2021 (Credit: Brittany Sheehan)
Facebook posts and messages with Mindy Robinson discussing an early endorsement of her forecasted opponent in NV3, April Becker, July 2021 (Credit: Brittany Sheehan)

In a post-election social media message, Robinson alleges that voter fraud made it so her portion of the vote totals would be in the margin to cost the Republican candidate the seat.

Mindy Robinson’s Instagram post about election results

It remains unclear whether Robinson intended to lose by more votes or thinks that she could have won the seat without the alleged fraud. This leaves a larger question unanswered as to why she was on the ballot, anyway.

Robinson is an example of taking no responsibility for the results, and now, the impacts to the state, because vague claims of fraud are used to justify anything.

We are holding on by one seat in the State Senate. If we lose that too, then it doesn’t matter as much that we won the governorship, when they can ram through everything they want, overcome a veto and pass taxation legislation, too. Bang up job on that, “patriots.” This is a candidate jumping ship on the GOP for a third party, which in turn means she did not have to win a primary to appear on the ballot leaving us with a super-minority in the lower house and one seat from worst-case legislative scenarios.

Given that retaining some level of credibility through election season helped convert on-the-fence grassroots conservatives to at least pick up the governor’s race, (along with Gilbert telling his supporters to vote Lombardo) I couldn’t afford the public spat ahead of elections. Republicans couldn’t afford it. So, I just helped the organizations that were helping Jones, Becker, and others.


There are other considerations to be made. Laxalt campaigned heavily in rural Nevada, where he beat Steve Sisolak by 50,000 votes in the 2018 Governor’s race, but not enough to win. This was actually a replay of that, really.

There are multiple lessons to be learned in Nevada. The question is if anybody will take the memos. If they don’t, we are destined to lose by slim margins again. But, don’t take my word for it. I’m just a Republican who says Republicans should support Republicans, signing off of election season from the ill-fated Silver State.

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