2022 Election

Nevada Democrats lean on Harry Reid’s political machine when warning lights flash

LAS VEGAS – Harry Reid spent decades perfecting his brand on machine politics that support Democratic control across Nevada.

Now, four months after the death of Reid, the venerable political giant who represented Nevada in Congress for 34 years, Democrats here once again find themselves leaning on his legacy. .

In an already volatile environment nationally for their party, in which they are faced with issues such as rising inflation, soaring gas prices and dismal White House approval, they are tasked with locking the Senate seat of Catherine Cortez Masto and the outcome could determine the control of the Senate. They are also defending the acting governor of Steve Sisolak, which it took Democrats 20 years to claim from Republicans. Based on a poll published last week, both incumbents are trailing their Republican opponents. And on Wednesday, the Cook Political Report identified two congressional races in the state as released after having previously judged them favorable for the Democratic Party.

Governor Steve Sisolak and Dr. Jill Biden at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nev., on March 9, 2022.
Governor Steve Sisolak and first lady Jill Biden at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nev., on March 9.Ty O’Neil / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

At the same time, the Democratic Party is active lobbying for Nevada to hold the first presidential primaries in the country in 2024. Las Vegas is one of the cities of interest for the Democratic National Convention. And on top of that is the battleground for the 2024 presidential election, which is a minority country where experimenting with a strong Latino vote protest message could resonate nationally.

“This is Reid’s vision for Nevada,” said Megan Jones, a Nevada-based paramedic who has worked with Reid for more than 25 years. “He always thought it should be the center of the universe.”

Yet, for the first time in more than three decades, Nevada Democrats must engage in such political battles without Reid, the tactician who offered a firm hand and helped bridge coalitions. . The organizational apparatus he left behind is still stirring – and dominating Nevada Democratic politics.

That’s even after the Democrats here disbanded last year after a group backed by the Social Democratic Party of America took over the party structure, bringing in Judith Whitmer, a Bernie Sanders supporter, in the chair. state party president. That left national Democrats confused, fearful of upheaval and a divided party in a crucial battleground state.

But expectations that newcomers would rock the establishment never materialized. Instead, the shadow party that the Reid machine launched – the Nevada Democratic Victory, or NDV – evolved into the party that de facto handles races for the top ticket. NDV set up shop in the rocking Washoe district, Reno’s hometown, and money, a powerful group of politicians, aides, and strategists followed.

“A lot of people in politics have worked with or for him on his staff or organizers,” said Nicole Cannizzaro, majority leader in the Senate. “There are a lot of us who are very committed to making sure that legacy lives on.”

However, a split remains. Interviews with more than a dozen party members, elected officials, activists and longtime members show that a still divided Democratic Party has ushered in a new era of dysfunction, one of where the two entities are still finding a way to coexist after the crossing. Initial conflict over money and voter data. It’s an ominous sign for 2024, when Democrats can’t afford a split. While the Reid machine that helped turn seats statewide in the blue, it was Sanders, the candidate backed by the Democratic Socialist Party of America who decided to win the caucuses this year. 2020.

Residents vote in Nevada Democratic Presidential caucus
Participants check in at the Nevada Democratic Party caucuses at the Bellagio Ballroom in Las Vegas on February 22, 2020.Joe Buglewicz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Initial clashes between Whitmer and the Washoe County crew were resolved, including battles too share voter data and fundraising. Whitmer State affiliated party ended log into a deal by the Democratic National Committee to free up access to voter records.

In an interview, Whitmer emphasized that she is focused on beating Republicans and not choosing to fight her own party. Under her leadership, the party did not challenge the top candidates with candidates on the more left; in fact, Whitmer ceded control of those races to NDV.

She did not have many options, as the major elected officials who helped build that apparatus supported the move to the NDV. For now, at least, Whitmer is content with not participating in yes-no contests like school board elections. Those races have long gone unchallenged, she said, and they have left an opportunity for Republicans to dominate so-called culture war issues. Whitmer also said she is turning more attention to the rural areas of the state where Republicans hold power.

The political establishment seems to have little interest in infighting – and in interviews, Reid politicians seem content to stay away from the split altogether.

For instance, when Senator Jacky Rosen was asked in an interview whether Social Democratic media was a sign the party needed to expand beyond Reid’s legacy, she answered without mentioning it. refer to the existence of another entity.

“I can tell you this: A coordinated campaign over the years has turned Nevada in the blue,” Rosen said.

During Reid’s political rule, Nevada turned from a red state to the battlefield it is today. Both US senators – Rosen and Cortez Masto – are Democrats (and women). Democrats control the Legislature, and President Joe Biden has run Nevada in 2020, albeit narrowly.

Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., In the Dirksen Building on March 15, 2022.
Senator Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., In Washington on March 15.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

“We have a federal majority delegation. We have the majority of our constitutional offices as Democrats. Rosen said. “The voters… when they saw us, they showed who they want and the kind of management they want: pragmatic problem solvers.”

Ask about political insiders who had deemed her inappropriate or ineffective, Whitmer raged.

“I think at first they thought it would have a bigger impact than they did. I think the shadow parties are still there, but I don’t think they have that big of an impact or that much of an impact,” she said. “I think the majority of Democrats are definitely involved and working with us.”

Referring to NDV, she said, “And the very small faction that is still trying to keep control is losing ground – their sphere of influence is dwindling.”

Party building and uniting fighting forces are central to Reid’s enduring political play, which was played out during a phone call between Reid and Whitmer last year. Whitmer said when she encountered an impasse with NDV, she turned to Reid.

“’Sen. Reid, anything you can do to help,” Whitmer recalls telling Reid last year. “We cannot go into this election cycle with the party divided.”

Reid agreed, she said, and told her, “Yes, the party needs to unite.”

Reid pledged to urge allies to find ways to cooperate. “” You’re the president of the party,” Whitmer said Reid told her. “‘We need to get into this election cycle and beyond looking at the ways that we can all come together. ‘”

The two had three conversations last year, which Whitmer described as positive and encouraging. (A former Reid aide familiar with the conversation said Reid also told Whitmer that being president wasn’t as easy as people thought, and asserted that the NDV’s political and fundraising apparatus was needed.) .

Whitmer’s ally, Chris Roberts, a Social Democrat who is now chairman of the Democratic Party in Clark County, the state’s most populous, argued that establishment Democrats still consider the affiliated crowd with Bernie Sanders a threat.

“I think it goes back to the deep respect for Senator Reid that exists here,” Roberts said. “The notion that… he worked tirelessly to build a strong Democratic Party in Nevada. And there were some in the party who thought we put that at risk. “

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledges audience in Nevada Democrats' "First in the west" event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid acknowledges the audience at the Nevada Democratic Party’s “First in the West” event at the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on November 17, 2019.David Becker / Getty Images files

Like it or not, partisan separatism could become the biggest detractor to the spirit of begging for the country’s first contest.

A member of the Democratic National Committee from a state is hotly contesting Rosen’s behind-the-scenes support for Nevada.

“The senator ignored the fact that the Nevada Democratic Party was in the midst of a brutal civil war, sending the once lauded state party into disarray,” said one member displeased with Rosen’s support. House bid said in an interview.

Both the state party and the NDV insist that a “civil war” is far from what is happening on the ground. Both sides have tried to communicate better, often through their executives. In an effort to be first in the country, Nevada DNC member Artie Blanco regularly updates Whitmer. And on the possibility of holding the 2024 Democratic convention in Las Vegas, Democrats here agree that the effort will fall behind to push for the first primaries in the country.

The inclusion of Whitmer’s crew, however, was no sign that the forces still dominant in the state were preparing to leave Reid’s legacy.

“There’s always been a natural evolution of things, but I wouldn’t say there’s a desire to leave Reid,” said Molly Forgey, a former Reid aide who now works on Sisolak’s campaign. “I say that as someone who can never be behind that. I don’t think there is a world where I can agree that is a reality. ”

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