Some Nevada Democrats blame party infighting for defeats


Nevada Democrats’ vaunted political machine delivered wins for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Secretary of State-elect Cisco Aguilar and Atty. Gen. Aaron Ford last week.

But Gov. Steve Sisolak and his running mate, Lt. Gov Lisa Cano Burkhead, each lost. In a yr when Democrats outperformed expectations almost in all places within the country, Sisolak was the one incumbent Democratic governor to lose his seat.

Sisolak’s COVID-19 policies, which shut down casinos and led to high unemployment, were unpopular, and his opponent, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, is well-known within the state. But some Nevada Democrats are saying party infighting can be accountable for Sisolak’s loss.

The progressive and establishment wings of the Nevada Democratic Party have been feuding since last yr, when progressives and members of the Democratic Socialists of America were elected to each leadership position within the state party. Before losing the interior election, the establishment figures who had been running the state party sent its entire treasury to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. After the election, they quit their jobs and commenced a recent group, Nevada Democratic Victory.

The party’s top elected officials picked sides. Cortez Masto and Sisolak allied with Nevada Democratic Victory. They, like all Nevada Democrats, worked closely with the so-called Reid Machine, a get-out-the-vote and canvassing operation that the late Sen. Harry Reid built. The machine’s paid canvassers — union members on leave from the Las Vegas casinos — knocked on greater than 1 million doors this election cycle.

The NV Dems, because the progressive insurgents are known, decided to give attention to electing Democrats to local positions.

“We’ve supported their work, but we haven’t been working together or coordinating any of our efforts,” Judith Whitmer, chair of the NV Dems, said of Nevada Democratic Victory. “We focused heavily on down-ballot races while they took the highest of the ticket. But, after all, we’ve done every little thing we will to support all of our candidates.”

A lot of the NV Dems have policy preferences that differ from their establishment counterparts, but all spoke highly of Reid, who died last yr.

Reid was from an impoverished, working-class background, and each side viewed him as a champion of Nevada’s working class. But without him, nobody has been capable of bring the progressive and establishment wings of the party together.

“There’s a really real leadership vacuum,” said Chris Roberts, chair of the Clark County Democrats. “Sen. Reid was a coalition builder. … Different and disparate coalitions of individuals liked and admired him. And there’s nobody who took his place to earn the respect and admiration of those different groups of individuals.”

The connection between the 2 wings of the party is so contentious that the NV Dems weren’t invited to Nevada Democratic Victory’s election-night watch party on the Encore, a five-star hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. As a substitute, the NV Dems phone-banked right as much as 7:00 p.m., when polls closed across the state, and held a small watch party with a food spread from Olive Garden.

“We weren’t invited. We’re here doing the work; they will have their fun,” Roberts told The Times on election night. “It isn’t about partying at once, and having parties on the Encore isn’t something we should always be doing.”

Mallory Payne, a spokesperson for Nevada Democratic Victory, disputed the concept the party was divided. “Nevada Democrats worked together this yr to deliver not only the Senate majority this cycle but in addition major wins up and down the ballot,” she said in a press release. “The Nevada State Democratic Party, in partnership with Nevada Democratic Victory, ran a successful multimillion-dollar voter turnout and persuasion program that helped our candidates in key races. We appreciate their efforts.”

People related to Nevada Democratic Victory had previously expressed doubts that the newly elected progressives within the state party had their predecessors’ ability to lift money, campaign and choose candidates who could win in Nevada. Donna West, a former chair of the Clark County Democratic Party, has criticized the brand new leadership, and Whitmer particularly, as hard to work with.

“I discovered that working along with her could possibly be really difficult, that she doesn’t really collaborate well and doesn’t work to construct consensus,” West told the Intercept last yr.

Democratic disunity is definitely not the one potential explanation for Sisolak’s defeat. His COVID-19 policies, which shut down casinos for two months and led to 28% unemployment, hurt him politically.

The NV Dems “had no impact on the wins or losses,” Chris Sloan, senior campaign advisor to the Democratic Governors Assn., told The Times.

Sloan cited three other aspects as contributors to Sisolak’s loss: COVID-19’s impact on the local economy, big spending from out-of-state donors and Lombardo’s high profile.

“The fallout from the pandemic was too big a hurdle,” Sloan said. “Sisolak could have overcame two out of three, but three out of three proved an excessive amount of.”

The tough decision to shut down Las Vegas’ casinos saved lives but contributed to Sisolak’s loss, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper added on a DGA press call Wednesday.

“He did the precise thing because he knew he desired to look out for the health and safety of the individuals who lived in Nevada, and I feel that that was a problem that hurt him significantly,” Cooper said.

Lombardo also hammered Sisolak over the governor’s ties to a COVID-19 testing company that billed the federal government at the least $165 million for tests that didn’t work.

Still, this yr’s Democratic campaign in Nevada was notably different from those of previous cycles. Prior to now, Nevada Democrats have worked together to elect all the Democratic statewide candidates. This yr was the primary time in Nevada that a campaign coordinated outside the state party has taken charge of the highest of the ticket, Whitmer said.

Historically, the state party also worked hand in hand with unions in coordinating campaign events. This yr, nonetheless, the unions largely acted independently. The state’s largest teachers union, the Clark County Education Assn., declined to endorse a gubernatorial candidate this cycle, citing teacher shortages and low academic student performance.

Nevada’s Democrats aren’t the one ones pointing fingers over election defeats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blamed “calcified machine-style politics” for her party’s poor performance in Latest York, where Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, lost his seat.

“Not once has the Latest York State Democratic chair ever called me,” Ocasio-Cortez told the Latest York Times. “All he has done is antagonize myself and any progressive candidates. We’d like to get together as a team.”

Whitmer has similar views and hopes that top Democrats in Nevada will see “the error of their ways.”

“I feel a few of these razor-thin margins might have been wider margins, if we’d been capable of work together as a team here in Nevada,” she said. “We’d like to tug back together and work together, because we’re stronger that way.”

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