Early voting in next year's primary elections starts in 241 days and candidates are starting to their moves. They’re shaking hands, raising money, and staking out positions.
For Nevada Republicans, that means launching campaigns to unseat Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the two top Democrats on the ballot next year.
Former Sen. Dean Heller kicked off his campaign for governor last week saying “I like what Texas did” in passing the nation’s most restrictive abortion law.
“Those comments that he made when he announced were nothing short of bizarre,” said longtime political journalist Jon Ralston, founder and editor of the Nevada Independent, who joined other political observers for a discussion on State of Nevada.
“People are willing to say almost anything to get to the right of the other candidates in the race,” said Ralston, who added that Nevada abortion law cannot be changed without a vote of the people.
“So when he was asked later about those comments, he essentially said, ‘Well, I don't really know what's in that Texas abortion law,’ and the subtext being, ‘but I knew it was a good thing to say for this primary.’ So Dean Heller doesn't know who he is, except that he wants to be back in public office.”
Ralston said that GOP candidates who court the activist party base aligned with former President Donald Trump could alienate the voters needed to win in Nevada, where only one Republican candidate has won statewide in the last four years.
“Running in a contested primary, you are going to say things in the primaries that will come back to haunt you in the general election,” he said.
College of Southern Nevada Professor Sondra Cosgrove echoed that, telling State of Nevada, “I hear people saying very dangerous things. I see them pandering not just to their base, but like 20% of their base.”
Hugh Jackson, editor of the Nevada Current, said that if history is a guide, the energy of the Republican base might be enough for the party’s candidates to win next November.
“It's traditional for decades now that in a midterm election, when the president is not on the ballot, and especially in that president's first midterm election, the party that is out of power generally has a really big election,” Jackson said, citing, most recently, the elections of 2010 and 2018 that reshaped Congress.
“You have to assume that Republicans have an edge, or at least they have a base of voters that are going to absolutely show up,” Jackson said. “Again, even if the candidates on the tickets are potted plants and pet rocks and baked goods. They're going to show up just because they're whipped up.”
Professor Cosgrove said Nevada’s closed primary system gives outsize influence to each party’s base.
“If you're nonpartisan, you don't get to vote for Democrats or Republicans” in the primary, she said.
Cosgrove advocates for an open primary and independent legislative redistricting as tools to move politics more toward the center.
“Candidates are not talking to that very large group of people — that purple part, that moderate part — and so that's why they're being dangerous,” Cosgrove said.
Hugh Jackson, editor, Nevada Current; Sondra Cosgrove, history professor, College of Southern Nevada; Jon Ralston, editor, Nevada Independent
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