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Some Republicans lean on Trump, others distance as they look to replace Nevada Democrats

 Joey Gilbert
AP Photo/Sam Metz
A billboard advertises legal services for Joey Gilbert, an attorney and former professional boxer, who is running for governor of Nevada in Reno, Nev., on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.

Republican candidates hoping to replace Governor Steve Sisolak are elbowing each other before the June primary. 

Former fighter and Reno attorney Joey Gilbert made a campaign stop over the weekend at a local church. Among the speakers was Seth Cashel, a former Army captain who still promotes the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump through widespread voter fraud.

Is there something for Gilbert to gain by embracing the "Big Lie" and by embracing this former Army captain? 

JOE SCHOENMANN: Who is Seth Cashel?

JOHN L. SMITH: He's a retired Army captain, who, according to published reports, at least dabbled in the intelligence end of the of the Army. And that gives him enough credibility on the stump to promote himself as an expert. When it comes to sniffing out voter fraud and sniffing out the statistical models that don't add up in his mind. He's been touting that 8 million excess votes were cast in the election excess. Of course, that's not true. It's not accurate. No incredible endorses it. ... Nevada, 33,000 vote loss, you know, that's not a small number.

JOE: While he's promoting this theory, it's been proven wrong in dozens of lawsuits countrywide. Is this a money making ploy for him? Or is it a attempt to gain power in case one of the candidates he likes gets a big job?

JOHN: I think what it is, it's a kind of drum that gets banged on the far end of the Republican Party these days. And that is the false grievance drum. We was robbed, that kind of thing. And there's a part of the base that responds to that grievance. And I think that's probably what he's doing. I'm not saying he's not a true believer, I imagine he is, at least from his rhetoric. He does make money from it. You see these on both sides of the political aisle. They're special interest packs out there that, people do earn a living with that.

JOE: Joey Gilbert, he's way down in the polls against Joe Lombardo, the outgoing sheriff in Las Vegas, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor. What's he getting out of being so angry about something that's been proven so false?

JOHN: First of all, he's getting name recognition at both ends of the state, that's jumped way up. It's probably really good for his law practice that aside for a guy who says he wants to be the next governor, you know, just a few months ago, being very close and the most loyal acolyte of the former president, was a really good thing. It was good for your poll numbers.

Now, however, of course, things have shifted. Being that Trump acolyte is playing to a smaller crowd. The problem with a lot of these folks is they've painted themselves into a corner. I mean, he can't walk back away from Trump now and nor does he intend to in my communication with one of his press people. You know, Gilbert made it very clear that he believes the election was stolen, that, you know, it's Donald Trump forever, and all of that. 

JOE: After Governor Steve Sisolak and his wife were accosted in a Las Vegas restaurant a couple weeks ago, Gilbert was the only Republican candidate to say he supported that attack. Does he really expect to win with this kind of hateful rhetoric?

JOHN: He's kind of built for the primary, not for the general, but you know, again, this is the kind of aggressive bulldog style that he has, and it appeals to some people. When you've got a primary out there that only a certain percentage of people are going to be voting. A lot of times it's those true believers who get up off the couch and go and vote.

JOE: He's also taking aim at Sheriff Joe Lombardo. Lombardo, like most sheriffs in Clark County, has sky high ratings here. Hhe's the front runner on the Republican side of the ticket. But what's he saying about Lombardo?

JOHN: Basically, that he's hiding, and he's not the only one saying that, you know, a lot of folks in the press are noticing that Lobardo is not exactly available all the time. ... That's what they'll do if he feels comfortable being way out front. He might be working on his golf game, or fundraising, which would be more important for that race at any rate, I mean, I think that's what Gilbert is going after. Certainly, Michelle Fiore's has whacked on Lombardo on that issue. But Lombardo has the lead.

JOE: Let's turn to the U.S. Senate, the race for that job, Catherine Cortez. Masto. Her job is up in the air right now. Her Republican challenger is Adam Laxalt. He's received mixed reviews from some usually traditionally supportive places.

JOHN: Some top Republicans are noticing the lack of fundraising success on Laxalt's part. Catherine Cortez Masto has been kind of a dynamo. She had over $10 million in hand at the end of last year. And these races are expensive. It's once you've courted the Big Lie, and you've been a part of litigation that was proven to be bogus, how do you walk that back? You have to believe that Cortez Masto, with all that money, is going to be reminding the voting public that Laxalt was that guy, and remained very close to Florida Senator Rick Scott and some others who are quite conservative in that party and are already promoting a future.

JOE: You're Nevadan born and bred. You're not Latino, but do you think Republicans have a shot getting votes from Catherine Cortez Masto? Who normally might go to her?

JOHN: I definitely think there's room for improvement there. And I think the party in the past has been capable of doing that, of going into different parts, picking off votes, picking off parts of constituencies. That's how you win elections in purple states, you fight for every vote. 

JOE: Former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Bob Rose died recently at the age of 82. And he's well known for his nearly 20 years on the state's high court where he served as Chief Justice. How do you think he'll be remembered?

JOHN: You know, in a number of ways, he was a lovely guy, a family guy. He was a real good human being. He also was important for the Nevada Supreme Court. He helped expand the court. He basically helped it grow up. In the final few years, he brought a kind of stability to the court. ... This is a guy who was a sharer in terms of the power of that office. He was he would absolutely was that kind of professional. I think that's how he'll be remembered. And I think that's why so many people who did work with him, it was a something that they look back on fondly.

John L. Smith, contributing commentator, State of Nevada

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.