At one time, the GOP in Nevada was a formidable force. However, in now his fifth term as state party chief, Michael McDonald has managed to move the party almost to the point of obscurity. Excluding 2014 where Democrats apparently forgot there was an election, McDonald has managed to transform the state GOP to an ineffective organization. Today, after McDonald was first named GOP chief in 2012, the party has only one representative in DC and one statewide elected official in Reno.
In the lead up to the 2018 midterms, the state party did beef up their ground game. When Dean Heller lost his Senate seat and the governor’s race was won by the Democrats- both races should have been close; they weren’t- the GOP was left looking for answers. The conclusion: if not for their efforts, the defeats would have been worse. Enter the Trump campaign to rescue the state GOP. According to observers, Trump opened the first state office in Nevada, has over 3,000 volunteers and has made more than 13,000 phone calls. These are things the state GOP should have been doing all along.
Nevada has long been considered a swing state. However, in the past three presidential cycles, Nevada has shifted to light blue status. For their part, Democrats are not taking the state for granted. A deluge of California transplants and a growing Latino and Asian population are transforming not only the demographics of the state, but also the important casino industry. Increasingly, these entities are placing their chips on the Democrats. From 2008 to 2017, more than 450,000 Californians have crossed state lines and now call themselves residents of Nevada. Less than 300,000 Nevadans have gone to California making the net migration total somewhere around 200,000 in favor of Nevada.
Further, the strong Culinary Union in Nevada- a union beholden to Democrats- claims 60,000 robotic voters. The white population in Nevada has flatlined since 2010 while minority populations have ballooned. The results of this demographic shift after the 2018 elections are clear: adoption of a green energy platform, an increase in the minimum wage, guaranteed collective bargaining rights, and increased gun control measures. Nevada, politically and legislatively, is looking a little more like their neighbor to the west.
Statewide, the GOP held the voter registration advantage by about 2,000 heading into 2018. In 2019, Democrats have a 70,000 voter advantage in registration. Demographically, the one thing the GOP has going for them is the number of retirees deciding to call Nevada home and the proportion of the population (about 1 in 6) who are 65 or older- those who tend to be conservative and/or moderate Democrats.
More on this in a bit as it concerns Trump. For the Democrats, many of them acknowledge that governor Sisolak and senator Rosen are hardly liberal firebrands. Biden leads in most polls out of Nevada. The general consensus among many political operatives in the state is that if the nominee is anyone but Biden, Democrats will have problems in Nevada.
When talking about Democrats and Nevada, the name Harry Reid looms large. Although retired, he did handpick Rosen, Sisolak and Susie Lee, Rosen’s replacement in the House. It was Reid’s organizational skills and forming coalitions between environmental, pro-immigrant and organized labor groups that produced high turnout that swept the current people into power.
Now onto Trump. Nevada is one state that he is targeting in 2020 to pick up. As proof, the Trump campaign spent more on advertising in Nevada than the entire Democrat field, except Tom Steyer. Nevada has decided to forego caucuses this year and the state GOP has endorsed President Trump. They have promised a heavy investment through the general election no matter who the Democrats choose.
Thus far, the state GOP is encouraged by the sale of merchandise as a fundraising device including tote bags with witch’s brooms ridden by cartoonish versions of House Democrats. The big question at this point is only whether they can keep up the pace. McDonald, a fossil of a party leader, has built up a close relationship with Trump and Chris Carr, with deep Nevada ties, is Trump Victory’s political director.
Most interesting is that when the Trump campaign announced their team for Nevada, notably absent was Rep. Mark Amodei. He was an earlier supporter of Trump in 2016, but his recent consideration in the impeachment inquiry found him a place on the outside looking in. Instead, Adam Laxalt, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race, was named the head of Trump’s efforts in Nevada.
Trump’s strategy in Nevada is pretty straightforward. First, the state has to mobilize that 16% of the electorate over the age of 65 who tend to be conservative and vote Republican. This will help offset the heavy organized labor vote, but may not be enough to push Trump over the finish line. Second, the focus must be on the economy. Even Democrats cannot deny the fact that the Nevada housing industry has bounced back and that state unemployment is at a 13-year low. Third, he has to portray whoever emerges as the Democrat candidate as out of whack with Nevada’s western sensibilities and out to destroy, through their New Green Deal and open borders policies, Nevada itself. Fourth, he needs to remind those California transplants why they moved to Nevada- away from the very policies that are destroying California.
Nothing is more telling than one Democrat debate when a question was asked whether the candidates support extending medical and other benefits to illegal immigrants. Everyone on that stage, including the allegedly “moderate” Joe Biden, raised their hand in support.
In short, voters in Nevada must be asked whether they want the Silver State to become the Golden State without the coastline.