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John L. Smith on abortion and status of upcoming Nevada election

Nevada Presidential Primary
AP Photo/John Locher

Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signs a bill into law Friday, June 11, 2021, in Las Vegas.

We’ve been talking about the U.S. Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade — which granted women the a constitutional right choose.

At least for now, it won’t affect Nevada, where it is the legal right of a woman to have an abortion. But could it have handed the governor the plan to reelection this fall?

Editor's note: This transcription has been edited for length and clarity.

SCHOENMANN: Could Nevada outlaw abortion?

JOHN L. SMITH: No question that a majority of Nevadans favor a woman's right to choose. That's just a law. Beyond that, this is where I think Democrats and Republicans differ, at least from the standpoint of what the candidates are saying. The congressional delegation, the Democrats in the congressional delegation, leaders at the state legislature and, of course, Governor Sisolak, were very clear in that this is an unprecedented and disturbing attack on reproductive freedom.

Some of the leading Republicans are just as adamantly for overturning Roe v. Wade. They say it in different ways. And a couple of them are, at least one: Joe Lombardo running for governor, he's been pretty shy about being very specific about where he stands. Why? Because his advisers clearly know that this is a hot button issue for people and a majority of Nevadans like it the way it is.

You have Joey Gilbert, who just did quite well at the state convention. He's promising to veto any legislation that comes his way that on this issue.

Dean Heller once was quoted saying he likes that Texas approach, which basically weaponizes and criminalizes the act.

Adam Laxalt, of course, is the most adamant of all, as attorney general, he showed where he stands on the issue by joining a lawsuit to restrict a woman's right to choose.

Did this help Sisolak’s reelection effort?

I certainly don't think it hurts him. You hear the national trends with the president, whose numbers, whose approval rating, is low, and gas prices are high. So you've got a tough time for Democrats to be running. However, this is one of those rallying points. If they can't get excited about this issue, then there are real problems for the Democrats, and we'll see if the Republicans can respond in kind, but we go back to your first observation.

A majority of people approve and believe in reproductive freedom for women. I think that's where the Democrats have the government advantage.

Nevada’s Republican Party endorsed Joey Gilbert for governor. Days later, Joe Lombardo was endorsed by Donald Trump. How did this happen?

Joe Lombardo was announcing and sidling up to the endorsement of the former president seen as something positive for him in the short run, to help shore up his lack of really long-range conservative, public perspective and public commentary. This was supposed to be a boon to his candidacy. I think he probably benefited from it somewhat.

However, when that Republican state convention came, their world turned upside down. Joey Gilbert blew Lombardo out of the water by more than a 2-1 margin. Now, these are just a few hundred delegates voting. However, it's really a great way to take the temperature of what's going on inside the Republican Party. Those representatives of their local Republican parties, they came out and voiced their concerns. And when they did, they tilted for Joey Gilbert by a very wide margin. And of course, he's making great hay about that. The Reno attorney is saying that this is just the beginning of him sweeping into that office.

Do the feelings or the votes of delegates in the Republican Party mean anything about how the wider public will vote?

I think it shows a level of intensity of what people are focused on. If you check the state party website, they're still talking about vaccine mandates and the evils of the vaccine and all of that. So you've got that going on inside the party right now.

And when you have someone who is as adamantly pro-Trump, as Joey Gilbert has been … you probably felt like a chump when he didn't get the endorsement. But this absolutely gives him a little bit of oxygen at a time when it hasn't been running as strong as he's talking. But you know, every little bit helps us as we get closer and closer to the primary.

Does this mean the state Republican Party leader, Michael J. McDonald, is out of step with the former president?

This is one of those awkward moments for Michael McDonald. He should be used to those moments by now. He does tout his connection and clout with the former president. This really, it looks embarrassing for him.

And also for the folks handling Lombardo, who wanted to make something out of this, it's a pie in their face as well. It also is a sign of some of the critics of McDonald are telling me that this guy doesn't have the handle of the party. He's not under the control of it as he's tried to show by taking over the county party and adding his own people there, that these horses are running wild.

It's not the right time to not be on the same page. We're coming up to an important primary, and this is an important year.

This makes it sound like Lombardo isn't accepted as a conservative, or am I wrong here?

There's no question that this doesn't look good for Joe Lombardo. Normally you have folks defending you in your own party, but there's a substantial number taking potshots at him. And it has to do with his availability, with his position on issues that are kind of those red meat issues for the GOP. You know, where does he stand exactly on a woman's right to choose all of that, and it's not, as I say, it's not the Democrats calling him out, so much as it is his own opponents in the primary.

Gilbert is essentially on fire every day against Lombardo, and others like John Lee have recently come on with commercials that are just eviscerating, and they're aimed at Lombardo, not at Steve Sisolak. So, got a lot of competition and a lot of people elbowing for first position.

Adam Laxalt, who is running for U.S. Senate against Catherine Cortez Masto, appears about as conservative as it gets. But he lost out the party's endorsement to former military man, Sam Brown. How did that happen?

Sam Brown is an interesting guy, he's a war hero, he was injured in battle, he's also well spoken, and showing a lot of energy. He doesn't appear to try to embrace the press to talk about his issues. He is well liked by the national party, some important influencers there have already come out to endorse him. Brown is certainly an underdog, and this is going to make him feel good.

But what would probably make him feel better is if you're higher up in the polls, and more competitive, but at the very least it shows again, inside this party, there are people who differ widely. He's shown a certain level of contempt for the working press, whose job it is to basically pull your tail and ask the hard questions. And so we'll see how that plays out. Again, a few hundred votes from delegates. It's not the end of the world. Nor is it a saving lifeline for those guys in second and third and lower places.

John L. Smith, contributor, 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.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the online editor for Nevada Public Radio. She oversees and writes State of Nevada’s online and social media content.