GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham looking to attend Laxalt Basque Fry as former AG eyes Senate race

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Wednesday he hopes to attend former Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s Basque Fry in August as Senate Republicans hope to win back the majority in the midterm elections by focusing on conservative issues that they argue resonate with Latinos in Nevada and other swing states.

“I’m looking at that,” Graham said. “I don’t know if I can make it. Adam’s a good guy and would be a good candidate for us out there.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, would not rule out attending.

So far, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) is the only confirmed Republican senator set to attend. Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he was invited but can’t make it due to his schedule. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he has no plans to attend. Both have attended in the past. 

Laxalt, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018, is considering running against Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), who is seeking re-election after her first term in office. 

Scott confirmed that he had spoken with Laxalt, former Sen. Dean Heller and other potential candidates that he would not name. Heller now appears to be laying the groundwork to run for governor.  

“I've talked to quite a few people in Nevada,” Scott said. “Ultimately, it's a personal decision whether people want to run or not.”

President Joe Biden won Nevada by just two percentage points and the NRSC is eyeing Cortez Masto’s seat as it looks to pick up the one seat Republicans need to break the Senate’s 50-50 party split. For the moment, Democrats control the chamber through Vice President Kamala Harris, who can break tie votes. 

On Thursday, the NRSC released a poll conducted in Spanish of 1,200 Latino voters in eight swing states, including Nevada, that it believes shows that Latinos are allied with the GOP on issues such as immigration and capitalism. 

While the poll only included 300 Latinos from Nevada, Scott argued that the survey shows that the GOP can connect with Latinos and win them over. That's something Scott prides himself in doing after winning a close Senate race in 2018. Scott beat his Democratic opponent by 10,033 votes.

“If you look at this poll, they're like a typical Republican,” Scott said Wednesday. “They're aspirational. They have a faith in God. They care about freedom. They care about opportunity. They're not into big government. They want the rule of law, and they want good schools. That's a Republican.”

Jazmin Vargas, spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, said that the poll didn’t reflect the unpopularity of Republicans’ policies with Latinos. She cited Republican opposition to the American Rescue Plan, which was enacted in March and provided $4 billion for Nevada and direct payments of $1,400 for most individuals. 

“A fake poll from the NRSC won’t change Senate Republicans’ record of attacking Latinos’ access to affordable care, their refusal to support DREAMers, and their unanimous vote against a coronavirus relief package that has provided direct economic relief to millions of Latino families and small businesses,” Vargas said, adding that a poll in April showed that 76 percent of Latinos approve of the law.

“Latinos will hold every Senate Republican accountable for their toxic agenda in November next year,” Vargas continued.

Conducted by OnMessage Inc., a Virginia-based Republican political polling and consulting firm, the NRSC poll also had respondents from Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

The survey found that 63 percent of those polled agreed that “capitalism is the best form of government because it gives people the freedom to work and achieve their potential.”

The question reflects Republicans’ strategy to paint Democrats as too liberal. It also comes after the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party was taken over by a slate of Democratic Socialist candidates in March.

On immigration, 72 percent agreed that the government “should do what is necessary to control our southern border and stop the surge of illegal immigration happening right now.” 

Another 69 percent opposed “allowing illegal immigrants to receive the same welfare and unemployment benefits as citizens.” 

Fifty-eight percent also said they agreed that too many people were living off of government assistance.

Scott, who also served as Florida governor, said he planned to use the poll to show his fellow Republicans what is possible when it comes to talking to Latino voters.

“I did it in my races, so there's no reason we can't do it across the country,” Scott said.

Scott said he did not know if there would be a contentious primary for the GOP nomination in Nevada, but he said that tough primaries can help fortify a candidate for the general election. 

Asked whether he believes former President Donald Trump would play a role, Scott said he hopes he does, adding that Trump remains popular with GOP voters.

“If you look around the country, his agenda is very popular,” Scott said. “So I think he can be helpful.”

Trump’s endorsement could give any contender an edge in the primary, and Laxalt, who won Trump’s backing for his 2018 gubernatorial bid, helped lead an effort in Nevada to spread false claims that improprieties in the state's election led to Trump’s defeat. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also eyed Laxalt for the Senate race. 

But with a recent rise in nonpartisan voter registration, a candidate that embraces the idea that the election was stolen could run the risk of turning off independent voters in a general election.

Graham said that Trump and other Republican candidates would be wise to move on from the 2020 election.

“I think there comes a point where you need to pivot forward,” Graham said. “Generally speaking, 2022 is about ‘what are you going to do for me and my family.’”

Graham said Trump is not the first politician to have a hard time letting go of a campaign. 

“He's got some legitimate concerns, but he will be well-served, I think, by looking forward,” Graham said. “Time will tell.”

Sources: Lombardo set to announce for governor

Undaunted by newly minted Republican Mayor John Lee’s announcement, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has made the decision to run for governor, sources confirmed Thursday.

Lombardo will formally announce next month and has hired a trio of high-profile GOP operatives, including a former political director for Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee.

The campaign team will be led by Ryan Erwin, a well-respected consultant who oversaw Cresent Hardy’s shocking upset of Rep. Steven Horsford in 2014 and helped Joe Heck win a seat in Congress (and almost secure a U.S. Senate seat). Erwin was involved in efforts to pass Marsy’s Law here and elsewhere and recently was retained by Caitlyn Jenner’s campaign to oust California Gov. Gavin Newsom. I don’t know of a more even-keeled, thoughtful and straight-shooting consultant who has been involved in Nevada politics.

Erwin will be joined by his former partner, Mike Slanker, who has been a consultant to the likes of Brian Sandoval and Dean Heller and is a media expert whose ads have been known to cut (and cut deeply), and Chris Carr, an ex-Trump and RNC operative who will oversee the grassroots/ground game and is as well-regarded as anyone I know across partisan and geographic lines.

It’s a formidable team enhanced by ex-Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, who was interested in running for governor but has agreed to chair Lombardo’s campaign. Hutchison is a formidable fundraiser; his PAC helped the GOP pick up legislative seats last year.

I am reliably told that some gaming companies have informed Lombardo they will give him substantial support, although some will have to play both sides because Gov. Steve Sisolak has such power over their enterprises. It will be interesting to see, especially after a legislative session controlled by Democrats and one that has intermittently infuriated the Strip, whether any companies give only to Lombardo. (This would surprise me.)

The industry’s campaign contributions could well hinge on how the session ends and the resolution of a so-called right to return bill that is the Culinary union’s main objective and has caused a serious rift with and within the industry. 

Lombardo would have to be seen as a favorite in the primary with this kind of firepower and Lee's recent entry into the Republican party. The North Las Vegas mayor also has baggage, including a raft of votes as a Democratic legislator. But Lombardo’s two terms as sheriff notwithstanding, the sheriff’s ability to perform statewide and handle non-law enforcement issues remain uncertain. And he will have to deal with his own record as sheriff, too.

Filing does not open until next March, and I am still not persuaded that candidates who announce this early will actually file. And I am not convinced that Lee, who has floated more trial balloons than anyone in Nevada history before they lost ballast, will sign on the dotted line next year. At least, that is, for governor.

Sisolak is seen as vulnerable by the GOP here and nationally because of criticism he absorbed during the pandemic for health care protocols that were deleterious for the economy. But Democrats are banking on a rebounding economy to put some wind at Sisolak’s back, and a potential GOP primary is not optimal for Republicans. And who knows whether a Trumpian contender (who has not recently switched parties) might get in, making it even more interesting.

Lombardo’s decision, though, ensures this is going to be a very interesting year in Nevada politics, which, as one who has followed it for three and a half decades, almost goes without saying.

Cortez Masto, Lee top prior first-quarter fundraising tallies as congressional campaigns eye 2022 midterms

Congressional representatives across the state reported race-leading fundraising hauls this week, positioning each with an early money advantage more than a year in advance of next summer’s primary elections. 

Leading all fundraising was Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV), who reported more than $2.3 million in fundraising ahead of what is expected to be a competitive re-election bid. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is not up for reelection until 2024, reported $341,794.

In the House, District 3 Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) led the state’s delegation with $607,407 raised through the first quarter; District 4’s Steven Horsford (D-NV) followed with $363,210; District 2’s Mark Amodei (R-NV) reported $77,749; and District 1’s Dina Titus (D-NV) reported $48,080.

With so much time left before the formal filing deadline for congressional elections next spring, the field of challengers in each district remains relatively small. Even so, two Republican challengers in the state’s two swing districts reported six-figure fundraising hauls, including Sam Peters in District 4 ($135,000) and April Becker in District 3 ($143,000).

Below are some additional campaign finance numbers for each candidate, broken down by district from greatest cumulative fundraising to least. 

Catherine Cortez Masto (D) — incumbent

Ahead of her first-ever bid for re-election as a U.S. senator and as Democrats prepare to defend their razor-thin margin in the Senate, Cortez Masto reported $2.3 million in fundraising, boosting her cash on hand by roughly 55 percent to nearly $4.7 million. 

A vast majority of that money, about $1.8 million, came from individual donors, including roughly $1.35 million in itemized contributions and $460,000 in small-dollar unitemized donations. Cortez Masto also raised an even $349,000 from PACs, more than $51,000 from political party committees and nearly $86,500 from other fundraising committee transfers.  

With a fundraising total orders of magnitude larger than any other candidate in Nevada through the first quarter, Cortez Masto also has by far the most individual donors of the entire field with thousands of itemized contributions reported, including several dozen contributions of the legal maximum. 

By law, individuals can contribute up to $2,900 per candidate per election (i.e. for the primary and for the general) in federal elections, while PACs and other committees can contribute up to $5,000 per election. Major donors will often contribute that maximum twice, once for the primary and again for the general, up front, giving candidates between $5,800 and $10,000.

Among the many donors who maxed out their contribution to Cortez Masto were a handful of Nevada regulars, including businessman and major Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck ($2,900 in the first quarter, $5,800 overall) and MGM Resorts International ($5,000).

With nearly $663,000 spent this quarter, no Nevada politician came close to Cortez Masto in outlays. Most of that money, $382,206, went to nine firms involved in fundraising operations, including mailers ($213,406) and online ($168,800). 

Jacky Rosen (D) — incumbent

With more than three years before she’ll face voters again, Rosen reported a comparatively modest $341,794 in contributions last quarter, but her campaign has more than $1.85 million in cash on hand. 

Of that money, most ($226,165) came from individual contributions, with the rest flowing largely from PACs ($14,000) and authorized committee transfers ($97,600).

Among the several dozen donors giving Rosen the legal maximum were Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun ($5,800) and his wife, Myra Greenspun ($5,800); Niraj Shah, CEO of the furniture retailer Wayfair ($2,900); and a leadership PAC linked to former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, the Seeking Justice PAC ($5,000).  

Most of the $137,000 spent by Rosen was for regular operating expenditures, though her campaign twice spent $5,000 for online advertising from New York-based firm Assemble the Agency. 

A district that covers much of the southern half of Clark County, including some of the Las Vegas metro’s wealthiest suburbs, District 3 has switched hands between the two major parties three times since its creation in 2002. 

For three cycles, that control has been maintained by Democrats, following a narrow win by Rosen in 2016, and subsequent victories by Lee in 2018 and 2020. Still, a narrow victory in the district by Donald Trump in 2016 and small voter registration gaps have marked District 3 as one of a few-dozen nationwide that may become key to deciding which party controls the House after the 2022 midterms.

Susie Lee (D) — incumbent

Frequently the top-fundraiser among Nevada’s House delegation, Susie Lee continued her streak last quarter with $607,407 in contributions. After Lee largely depleted her campaign reserves in a pricey bid to keep her seat last year, that first-quarter fundraising has left her campaign with just over $484,000 in cash on hand. 

Nearly all of that money — $493,070 — came from individual contributions, with the remaining $114,000 coming from big-money PAC contributions. 

Among those individual donors were several dozen contributing the $2,900 maximum. Those big money donors were largely local business leaders — including Cashman Equipment CEO MaryKaye Cashman, MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle and former MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren — though the group also included television showrunner and producer Shonda Rhimes.

Among PACs that contributed the $5,000 maximum were a mix of business interests (including PACs related to Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts International), and unions (including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and SMART, the sheet metal and transportation workers union, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.) 

Lee reported spending nearly $146,000 last quarter, an amount second only to Cortez Masto among the delegation members. Most of that money went to campaign consulting and staffing costs, with the single largest chunk — $32,000 spread over five payments — going to Washington, D.C.-based digital consulting firm Break Something. 

April Becker (R)

After her unsuccessful run for the Legislature in 2020, attorney April Becker is challenging Susie Lee (D) for her seat in Congress. In the first quarter of 2021, Becker raised $143,444 mostly from individual contributors. 

Becker received $2,000 from PACs, such as the Stronger Nevada PAC and (although not officially endorsed by) the campaigns for fellow Republican politicians, former Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei. 

Several of her big individual contributors included family members; donations from individuals with the last name Becker totaled $29,500, nearly a fifth of the total contributions. Local business owners also contributed to Becker, including some car dealership owners: $5,000 from Gary Ackerman of Gaudin Motor Company; Cliff Findlay and Donna Findlay of Findlay Automotive each donated the maximum of $2,900, totaling $5,800; and Donald Forman of United Nissan Vegas gave $5,800.  

Co-owners of the Innovative Pain Care Center, Melissa and Daniel Burkhead, each gave $5,800 totaling $11,600. Other contributors included several medical professionals, real estate investors and attorneys.

In the first quarter, Becker kept most of the money collected, $131,460, reporting spending only $11,983 on more fundraising efforts. 

Mark Robertson (R)

Also hoping to challenge Susie Lee, Army veteran Mark Robertson raised $61,631 in his first time running for a political seat. The sum includes $7,451 he loaned his campaign.  

Although he collected less than half than Becker in the first quarter, retirees were large contributors to his campaign, some nearly reaching the $5,800 maximum for both the primary and general elections. 

Several local architects, engineers and construction contractors were also among the contributors, including $5,000 combined from Kenneth and Michelle Alber of Penta Building Group, $3,000 from Brock Krahenbuhl, a contractor for GTI Landscape and $3,000 from Wayne Horlacher of Horrock Engineers. 

Robertson reported spending $25,148, including $5,250 on campaign consulting, $3,138 on office supplies and $3,270 on video and print advertising production services. After the expenditures, Robertson is left with $44,034 cash on hand. 

A geographically massive district — larger than some states — that encompasses parts of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and much of the state’s central rural counties, District 4 has been held by Democrats for all but one cycle since its creation in 2011. That exception came in 2014, when Republican Cresent Hardy unseated then-freshman Democrat Steven Horsford in an upset. 

Horsford retook the seat in 2018, defeating Hardy in an open race after incumbent Democrat Ruben Kihuen declined to mount his own re-election bid amid a sexual harassment investigation. Horsford later won re-election in 2020, beating Republican Jim Marchant by 5 percentage points. 

Steven Horsford (D) — incumbent

With $363,209 in reported fundraising, Horsford boosted his campaign war chest by more than 50 percent last quarter, lifting his cash on hand to $757,142. 

That fundraising was driven mostly by $205,883 in individual contributions, though Horsford also brought in a much larger share of PAC contributions ($157,251) than his delegation counterparts.

Among Horsford’s single-largest contributors was Las Vegas Sun owner Brian Greenspun and his wife, Myra, who both contributed the $2,900 maximum for the primary and general elections, or $11,600 combined. 

Horsford’s biggest PAC contributions came from a mix of political committees linked to the Democratic Party, unions and corporations. That includes $10,000 from the Congressional Black Caucus PAC (of which Horsford is a member), $5,000 from the public employees union AFSCME and $5,000 from MGM Resorts International.   

A vast majority of the $102,000 spent by Horsford’s campaign last quarter went to operating costs, salaries and consultants, though — like his fellow incumbents — a sizable portion ($21,000) still flowed to a pair of fundraising and finance compliance consultants. 

Sam Peters (R)

After finishing second in last year’s Republican primary for District 4, veteran and local business owner Sam Peters led Republican fundraising efforts in the district this quarter. Peters’ campaign raised more than $135,000, which came entirely from individual contributions.

Those contributions were driven largely by retirees, as two-thirds of the 100 big-money contributions over $200 came from donors listing themselves as retired. Peters’ campaign was also boosted by a few maximum or near-maximum donations, including $5,800 from Frank Suryan Jr., CEO of Lyon Living, a residential development company based in Newport Beach, California, and $5,800 from Suryan’s spouse.

After spending a little more than $24,000, mostly on campaign consulting and fundraising services, Peters ended the quarter with nearly $115,000 in cash on hand, nearly double the amount he had at the end of the first quarter of 2021.

A district that includes Reno and much of rural Northern Nevada, District 2 has for two cycles been the only federal seat in Nevada still held by a Republican. The one-time seat of former Sen. Dean Heller and former Gov. Jim Gibbons, both Republicans, the seat has been held by incumbent Republican Mark Amodei since 2011, when he defeated Democrat Kate Marshall in a special election to replace the outgoing Heller. 

Mark Amodei (R) — incumbent

After Amodei spent close to a thousand dollars more than he raised through the first three months of 2021, his campaign war chest sits at $323,347 entering the second quarter.

His fundraising of nearly $78,000 came largely from big-money contributions totaling more than $50,000, including roughly 30 donations between $1,000 and $2,000. But Amodei was also boosted by several maximum or near-maximum donations from Margaret Cavin, owner of plumbing company J&J Mechanical in Reno ($5,600), and Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research ($5,800).

Amodei’s fundraising was also boosted by a few large contributions from political committees, including $5,000 donations from PACs affiliated with MGM Resorts International and New York Life Insurance, $3,500 from a PAC affiliated with the aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corporation and $2,500 from Barrick Gold, a mining company.

Amodei’s spending was distributed across a wide range of categories, as he spent $7,625 on radio advertising, $4,000 on campaign consulting, nearly $20,000 on fundraising consulting, $12,750 on accounting services and more than $7,500 on meals and entertainment for contributor relations — including nearly $700 paid to cigar companies and more than $2,000 spent at Trattoria Alberto, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Located in the urban center of Las Vegas, the deep blue District 1 has been held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Dina Titus since 2012. Titus won the seat after losing a previous re-election bid in nearby District 3 in 2010, which she had held for one term after a win over Republican Rep. Joe Heck in 2008.

Dina Titus (D) — incumbent

With no clear challengers in the district, Titus finished the first quarter with the least money raised of any Nevada incumbent — she received $48,080, which was $1.85 less than she raised through the same period last year.

More than half of those funds were given by four PACs that contributed a combined $25,000. The American Institute of Architects’ PAC, a PAC associated with the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers PAC gave $5,000 each, a pro-Israel PAC called Desert Caucus donated $10,000.

Titus also received $14,280 from individuals, including a $1,000 contribution from former Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin and a maximum contribution of $5,800 from Uwe Rockenfeller, president of Boulder City-based engineering firm Rocky Research.

After spending $37,000 in the quarter, Titus brought her cash on hand total to almost $340,000.

How Cortez Masto’s fundraising stacks up heading into likely competitive 2022 midterm election

The embers of the 2020 election are still burning, but many national political analysts already are looking to the 2022 midterms given the likely knife-edge margins in the U.S. Senate affecting how President-elect Joe Biden will be able to govern.

Nevada will again be front and center in the national political conversation, with Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s Senate seat expected to be one of the top targets for Republicans — Nevada is one of three Democrat-held seats in potentially competitive states (others including New Hampshire and Arizona) up for grabs in 2022.

Cortez Masto hasn’t officially announced her re-election bid and her campaign website is still largely focused on her 2016 race, but the nation's first-ever Latina U.S. Senator quietly filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Dec. 28 indicating that she plans to run for a second term in 2022.

If 2020 is any indication, candidates for competitive U.S. Senate seats are fundraising at higher levels than ever before, meaning candidates including Cortez Masto will have to start preparing for expensive campaigns earlier than ever. 

So after four years in office, what do Cortez Masto’s campaign fundraising totals look like heading into the next election cycle?

After ending the 2016 campaign with just $220,000 left in the bank, Cortez Masto has built a substantial cash reserve —  more than $2.3 million in cash on hand in her main campaign account, and about $209,000 in her leadership PAC, All for Country. 

But she and her future Republican opponent can be expected to raise much more than that — the 2018 U.S. Senate race between Jacky Rosen and Dean Heller saw the candidates raise a cumulative $41 million over the course of the campaign, not including spending from outside groups.

Since taking office in 2017, Cortez Masto has raised roughly $5.4 million in her primary campaign account, which includes $2.9 million raised between 2019 and 2020 and $2.5 million raised between 2017 and 2018. Those totals are below the average amount raised per cycle for U.S. senators, according to numbers tracked by The Center for Responsive Politics, but the average is likely thrown off by senators running for re-election.

Over that same period of time, she reported spending about $3.3 million combined, leaving her with the $2.3 million in cash on hand.

Cortez Masto’s cash on hand total is about a million dollars more than what former Sen. Heller, a Republican, had in his campaign account two years ahead of his ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign in the 2018 midterms.

Nevada’s candidate filing deadline is more than a year away, and no high-profile Republican candidates have yet publicly announced intentions of challenging Cortez Masto. Challenges in the state’s last two U.S. Senate races — Democrat Rosen in 2018, and Republican Joe Heck in 2016 — announced their respective candidacies about 18 months before Election Day.

Ultimately, fundraising levels for individual campaigns are just one portion of spending on elections, given the vast influence and spread of Super PACs and so-called “dark money” groups, which run thinly-veiled “issue” ads targeting candidates but are not required to disclose their donors.

In the 2016 Senate race, outside groups reported spending more than $91 million, largely on television and other advertisements supporting or opposing Cortez Masto and Heck. In 2018, outside groups spent $66 million in the state’s U.S. Senate race.

Cortez Masto instead spent much of her political energy on leading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the formal arm of Senate Democratic candidates. The organization, which Cortez Masto was tapped to lead in 2018, made headlines for substantial fundraising but ultimately saw a net gain of just one Senate seat after defeating incumbents in Arizona and Colorado while losing in Alabama (two Georgia Senate races will be decided in a Jan. 5 runoff election).

Serving as chair of the DSCC, which is part of the Senate Democratic leadership team, could help Cortez Masto raise funds for her 2022 race by introducing her to the Democrats’ national network of donors. 

But when asked whether she thinks it will help her in her re-election, Cortez Masto demurred and said she accepted the post because it was good for the state to have a seat at the leadership table.

“It gives me the opportunity to weigh in on behalf of the needs of Nevada with our leadership when we're when we are addressing policy needs or resources,” Cortez Masto said.

Serving on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax and trade policy, will also help her raise campaign dollars. Members of the panel are sought out by all sorts of industries seeking to affect the nation’s tax and trade agenda. Cortez Masto got the post after agreeing to be DSCC chair. Her appointment to the tax panel in 2018 came in addition to serving on the Senate Banking Committee, which also is a beacon for large national donors.“

Winning a seat on the senate tax-writing committee guarantees members that they will attract generous donations from banks, insurance companies, real estate agents, accountants, and securities and investment firms,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks congressional fundraising.

Updated at 2:02 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021, to correct the amount of cash on hand that former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller had in his campaign account prior to the 2018 election cycle.

Biden’s victory, key House wins upheld Nevada’s blue wall while Republicans chipped away at it down ballot

As the sun dipped below the horizon, closing out the seventh to last day before the election, Kamala Harris had a message for the supporters who had gathered on socially distant red, white and blue picnic blankets at an East Las Vegas park to hear her speak.

“You all are going to decide who is going to be the next president of the United States. You will decide,” the Democratic vice-presidential nominee told the crowd, to hollers and applause. “A path to the White House runs right through this field.”

President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally a day later just over the state line in Bullhead City, Arizona, was equally as bullish on his chances in Nevada.

“Six days from now, we are going to win Arizona, we are going to win Nevada, and we are going to win four more years in our great White House,” Trump told the crowd of thousands who had gathered.

It wasn’t just talk. Nevada, of course, mattered to both campaigns this election cycle. It’s why the Trump campaign focused on building out its Nevada operation long before there was even a Democratic presidential nominee. It’s why Joe Biden’s campaign doubled down on its voter outreach this summer when it felt like the contest was narrowing.

By the time the night of the election rolled around, though, it seemed as if, in many ways, Nevada’s importance had been written off. Polls had Biden several points ahead. The prognosticators anticipated Nevada would lean blue. Both Biden and Trump spent their final days in the battleground states that were ground zero for the 2016 election — states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

When results started rolling in on election night in Nevada, Biden had a sizable, if not overwhelming, 3 to 4 percentage point lead at first, as many had predicted. But by early Wednesday morning, as the votes continued to be tallied, Biden’s lead over Trump had shrunk to 0.6 percentage points, or 7,647 votes.

Suddenly, what had seemed like a sure bet for Democrats in Nevada earlier in the evening, wasn’t anymore, and the Silver State was thrust into the national spotlight as the presidential race here remained too close to call.

Of course, it wasn’t really. Over the span of several days, Biden managed to steadily grow his lead as outstanding mail ballots, most of which were in Clark County, the state’s Democratic stronghold, continued to be counted, as anticipated.

But to the rest of the country, which remained on pins and needles as the presidential race nationally also remained too close to call as votes continued to be counted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and North Carolina, Nevada’s vote counting seemed impossibly slow, inspiring countless memes across social media.

Finally, four days later, the race in Nevada was officially called for Biden, just about half an hour after some media outlets called the entire race for the former vice president. Though a small number of ballots still remain to be tallied, Biden’s lead in Nevada stands at 2.39 percentage points, or 33,596 votes, as of Saturday.

From the outside looking in, Biden’s victory in Nevada may seem predictable because Nevada looks like a blue state. Its governor is a Democrat, both of its U.S. senators are Democrats, three out of four of its House members are Democrats and both chambers of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats. But neither Republicans nor Democrats here have been willing to concede that Nevada is, in fact, a blue state.

For Democrats, those victories have all come hard fought, some won by the skin of their teeth. In 2016, Catherine Cortez Masto won her U.S. Senate race and Hillary Clinton won the presidential race both by 2.4 percentage points. Though margins of victory widened two years later with Steve Sisolak’s 4.1 percentage point victory in the gubernatorial race and Jacky Rosen’s 5 point victory in the U.S. Senate, Democrats knew that 2020 would look different.

Republicans knew this too. They knew that Trump voters who didn’t turn out to vote in 2018 would show up this year to vote for the president, and they hoped those voters could also be persuaded to vote Republican all the way down the ticket. They also hoped to persuade moderates that overwhelming Democratic control in Carson City wasn’t a good thing.

On that front, Republicans appear to have succeeded. While Democrats celebrated their win at the top of the ticket, they actually lost ground down the ballot in the Legislature. Three Assembly seats that Democrats had picked up in 2018 returned to Republican hands, meaning that Democrats no longer have a supermajority in that chamber, and they lost a key state Senate seat as well, narrowing their majority.

And while Democrats held onto two competitive congressional seats, their victories were narrower than they were two years ago.

Still, Democrats look at the results of this election and see a blue wall. Even with their losses in the Legislature, they still hold majorities in both chambers. To them, the election once again demonstrates that ensuring Nevada votes blue takes work, and a lot of it.

“It should be crystal clear now that Biden would not have won Nevada but for a well-funded ground game ... We win in Nevada because we leave it all on the field — every cycle,” Rebecca Lambe, a longtime Democratic operative in the state responsible for building the Reid machine, said in an email. “We fund communications, we fund mail, we fund field —  we knock doors to push our voters to vote.”

Republicans, however, are hopeful in the wake of this election. They see the narrower margins as a sign of hope for the 2022 election. They also look at specific victories, such as the fact that Heidi Gansert, a Republican, was re-elected to her Washoe County state Senate seat even as the county swung decidedly for Biden, and that educator Carrie Buck flipped a state Senate district that has two Democratic Assembly seats nested beneath it as glimmers of hope for the future of their party — that the state might still be more independent than it has in recent years appeared to be.

"The biggest surprise to me in this election was the historic DNA of Nevada — being independent and looking at the person before the party — reappeared,” said Pete Ernaut, a longtime Republican consultant in Nevada. “The idea that there were ticket-splitters was as refreshing as it was surprising."

Voters line up to cast their ballots at West Sahara Library on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

How Biden won Nevada

Over the summer, some Democrats fretted that the presidential race in Nevada might be closer than anticipated. The coronavirus pandemic had forced them to toss their usual playbook out the window and, as the Trump campaign returned to knocking doors in person in June, their campaign remained virtual, hindering, in the eyes of some, their ability to effectively connect with voters.

Of course, Democrats had been hosting Zoom events, phone banks and text message drives, utilizing the framework of “relational organizing,” or the principle of having supporters tap into their personal networks to turn voters out to the polls. But the face-to-face connection was missing.

Enter the Culinary Union.

The politically powerful labor union, which represents 60,000 hotel workers across the state, has earned a reputation cycle after cycle for turning the tides in favor of Democrats in close elections, most notably in Harry Reid’s 2010 U.S. Senate race. But its membership was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic: Ninety-eight percent of the union’s members were furloughed this spring, and only about half are back to work.

The union’s finances were hit hard, too. It had no money for a political operation. So, for the first time, they set up a super PAC, Take Back 2020, asked for help, and it came, from the Carpenters Union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Operating Engineers, the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME, and more, D. Taylor, international president of the Culinary’s parent union, UNITE HERE, said.

“If it had not been for other unions, individuals, organizations contributing to us, we never could have done this — ever, ever ever,” Taylor said.

The super PAC raised money nationally for Unite Here’s efforts, which included political operations in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida. But Taylor said the union raised more than $10 million for its Nevada operation alone, which deployed 500 canvassers in the field who knocked 500,000 doors in Las Vegas and Reno and talked to 130,000 voters, including more than 42,000 eligible voters who did not participate in the election four years ago. 

“We didn’t have the money,” Taylor said. “Frankly, even if we had had the money, we still probably needed to set up a PAC. Just here in Nevada, Trump’s campaign was much more robust in 2020 than it was in 2016.”

Plus, there was an extra added benefit: The political operation also helped out-of-work union members put food on the table.

“Up in Reno we had folks come in from our locals in California who were laid off too and other locals besides Las Vegas,” Taylor said. “In Las Vegas a lot of folks were laid off workers who got to earn some money and change the country.”

It represented the Culinary Union’s largest — and earliest — political effort to date. When the union started talking to voters at the doors on Aug. 1, it was the only Democratic-aligned organization in the field. For Our Future, a super PAC focused on grassroots Democratic turnout, launched an in-person canvassing operation on Oct. 1, eventually knocking on 150,000 doors, in addition to making 650,000 calls and sending over a million text messages. 

Other organizations focused primarily on virtual or non-face-to-face outreach. Mi Familia Vota, for instance, made nearly 100,000 calls and sent more than 80,000 text messages to Latinos in Nevada on Election Day, while One APIA Nevada dropped literature in five Asian languages at 30,000 doors, in addition to making 180,000 phone calls and sending 6,000 text messages.

The Biden campaign, meanwhile, engaged in a mostly virtual campaign until the final three weeks, when it started in-person door knocking as well.

Combined, Democrats report knocking on more than 1.3 million doors across Nevada this election cycle, while the Trump campaign reported knocking more than 1.1 million.

"It is one thing to get the green light to go knock doors. It’s another to move an entire organization to really take on that challenge and do it in a way that’s safe,” said Shelby Wiltz, the Nevada State Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign director. “In 21 days, really, we were able to put together a massive door-knocking operation and lit-dropping operation across multiple counties to talk to voters that we didn’t have phone numbers for, that we hadn’t reached in the first two months of the campaign, including young people and people of color."

The Culinary Union, for its part, attributes its decision to knock doors so early to the conversations that it had with epidemiologists and industrial hygienists around workplace health and safety as it pushed for employee protection legislation in Carson City over the summer. Using that knowledge, union leaders established health and safety protocols canvassers had to adhere to while out in the field, including wearing masks, requiring those they spoke with to wear masks, and practicing social distancing.

 “We said if not us, who? There was no other who,” Taylor said. “We did what we do without a lot of bells and whistles and just did the work.”

The Culinary Union engaged in other kinds of voter outreach, too, sending emails and texts to 60,000 members, mailing 5.6 million mail pieces, making 2 million personal calls and 240,000 automated calls and running digital persuasion ads that racked up 11.6 million views — the kind of outreach that other organizations engaged in as well. 

But what set the union apart was the size and scope of its door-knocking operation. Taylor said that where the union’s typical contact rate at the door is usually 7 percent, it was more like 30 percent this year.

“I think that’s been proven over and over and over, and we know that it’s a three-legged stool to move folks,” Taylor said. “One, you have to have the TV stuff, two, you have to have the phone bank and text but, three, it’s the actual conversations with folks.”

Taylor, for his part, does not think Biden would have won Nevada without the Culinary Union.

“I know who we turned out and that was the difference in Washoe and Clark,” Taylor said. “I don’t think Joe Biden would’ve won and I don’t think a lot of Democrats would have won.”

Other Democrats in the state painted the election as a team effort, but acknowledged the decisive role that the union played not just in Biden’s victory but in key down ballot races as well, including Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro’s tight re-election campaign in Senate District 6.

"If Culinary was not out there in a meaningful way starting in August, I think this race would’ve been a lot closer,” said Megan Jones, a longtime Democratic operative in the state. “I think we would’ve eked it out, but we may have lost Nicole’s seat and we would’ve probably lost a couple more Assembly seats."

Democrats believe that Nevada could have easily become the next Wisconsin or Michigan from 2016 if not for the investments in the Culinary Union, For Our Future and other organizations on the independent expenditure side of the campaign, in addition to the Biden campaign’s decision to put canvassers back on doors at the end of the race.

The Biden campaign acknowledges they wouldn’t have been able to win in Nevada if not for the help of those other Democratic-aligned organizations.

"You have to remember that it’s a team effort and that there is institutional knowledge and organizations, like the NV Dems, like the Culinary Union, have been building relationships with voters for many cycles,” said Alana Mounce, Biden’s state director in Nevada.

As far as the tight margin of victory in the presidential race in the state, it doesn’t come as a surprise to Democratic operatives who know Nevada well.

"We knew from very early on that this was going to be a close race. Nevada is a battleground state,” said state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, a senior advisor on Biden’s Nevada team. “The margins haven’t been 5 to 10 point margins, they are 2 to 5 point margins, which means every vote really matters."

A group celebrates president elect Joe Biden's victory on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. Around 50 people gathered at the Commercial Center in Las Vegas. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Republican gains down the ballot

While Democrats celebrate their success at the top of the ticket, it is Republicans who are finding reasons to be hopeful further down the ballot, including in the four legislative seats that Republicans were able to wrest from Democrats.

To some, it feels like a reset back to the way things were four years ago, before Democrats extended their reach in the last election. The only difference between the makeup in the Assembly this year is that Republicans picked up District 31, giving them one more seat than they had in 2016. In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans have the same split they did in 2016; they have just since swapped control of Senate Districts 5 and 9.

“From the Assembly Republican perspective, we’re happy where we’re at,” said Eric Roberts, executive director of the Assembly Republican Caucus. “We had four seats we were looking at picking up, and we got three of those.”

Perhaps the biggest upset, though, was Republican Carrie Buck’s victory over Democrat Kristee Watson in Senate District 5. Buck had run for the seat four years ago against state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, the term-limited incumbent, and lost by 0.9 percentage points. 

This year, Buck won by 0.5 percentage points, even as the two Assembly districts nested beneath the seat swung for Democrats. Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen won her re-election bid in Assembly District 29 by 2.5 percentage points, while newcomer Elaine Marzola won her election in Assembly District 21 by 3.9 percentage points.

“We were fortunate Carrie Buck decided to run again. She ran four years earlier, and it was a close election,” said Greg Bailor, executive director of the Senate Republican Caucus. “Carrie has deep roots in that district being an educator and she really campaigned hard and was able to talk to Democrats and nonpartisans in a way that helped gain that support in the district.”

In many ways, the Republican pickups in the Legislature mirror what happened at the national level, where Democrats lost several key House races to Republicans that they had picked up two years ago.

“Democrats won too much in 2018, if you will. They got farther out than they probably should’ve because there was so much energy on the Democratic side,” said David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV. “In 2020, you didn’t see that. They lost ground or held their own.”

Democrats, for their part, aren’t entirely shocked they weren’t able to replicate their successes from 2018, though the losses still sting. Jones said that, in looking at the data, it is “abundantly clear” that nonpartisans in Clark County did not break for Democrats.

“We're up in Clark County by the amount of Democrats that voted essentially, which means nonpartisans were a wash or we lost a few,” Jones said.

Republicans are also celebrating their successes in Washoe County, including in Senate District 15, where Gansert was able to fend off a challenge from a newcomer Democrat, Wendy Jauregui-Jackins. Gansert won by 3.6 percentage points when Biden won the county by 4.5 percentage points.

“Washoe County as a whole has seen growth and a lot of that growth has come from new constituents and voters that are a little bit more moderate,” Bailor said. “Senator Gansert does have a track record in the community and with her constituents, but she had to reintroduce herself to voters.”

Still, Gansert’s victory this year was narrower than her 11 percentage point victory in 2016, which has some Republicans worried about their prospects down the ballot there moving forward. 

“The trend in Washoe is concerning,” Roberts said. “As a Republican, we have to look at that and say, what’s happening here?” 

There is also one down-ticket race that political operatives believe was likely specifically affected by the pandemic. Assemblyman Skip Daly, a Democrat, has earned a reputation cycle after cycle for his relentless doorknocking that has allowed him to represent a Republican-leaning district for eight of the last 10 years. But, because of the pandemic, he didn’t door-knock this cycle, and former Assemblywoman Jill Dickman, a Republican, bested Daly by 3.5 percentage points in their fourth head to head in Assembly District 31.

“It’s as close as you can get to a control group of a comparative analysis. Same candidate, same campaign management, it’s the same basic everything from 2018 to 2020,” said Riley Sutton, a Democratic consultant in Washoe County who managed Daly’s race. “The only difference is who is at the top of the ticket and if we knocked doors or we didn’t. Skip didn’t knock doors.”

In the two competitive congressional districts, Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford both faced tighter contests this year than they did in 2018. Lee won by 3 percentage points this year, compared the 9.1 point margin she won by two years ago, while Horsford won by 4.9 points after winning by 8.2 points in 2018.

Republicans attribute the closeness both in the presidential race and down ballot elections, in part, to the decreased Democratic field operation this cycle.

“There still wasn’t the Democrat presence on the doors that I had seen in the past,” Roberts said. “Even when there was, it almost had more of a feel of a lit drop. I didn’t see any Democratic operatives out knocking doors. In past cycles I’ve always seen that.”

But they also point to the successes of an enhanced field operation that they say was boosted by the fact that Chris Carr, a Republican operative with deep ties to Nevada, was political director for the Trump Victory organization this cycle. They also highlight that the Republican operation in Nevada has now existed continuously for four years instead of getting reset cycle after cycle.

“I would say this was the largest field program we’ve had,” Bailor said. “Prior to 2020, 2018 was the largest, and 2016 was the largest before that. We’ve continued to build on that.”

The Trump campaign declined to comment for this article, citing ongoing legal fights. Though it has yet to file a new legal challenge in court since the election, the outcome of any legal battle, even if favorable for the Trump campaign, is unlikely to change the results of the presidential election in Nevada because of Biden’s relatively wide margin of victory in the state. Any legal action could, however, potentially affect close down ballot races.

Trump aside, Republicans believe they’re well-situated headed into the 2022 election, where there will be a competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial election in Nevada.

"Republicans won some close races and Democrats won some close races. I think both sides did a really good job and ran good campaigns,” Ernaut said. “The biggest difference was in the last four cycles the Republicans really hadn’t. They really didn’t have much of a ground game and this time they did — and had a good one."

Jan Moody during the GOP watch party at the South Point Hotel on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Voter turnout

The biggest puzzle that remains about the election in Nevada isn’t why Biden won or why Republicans succeeded down ballot: It’s why even more voters didn’t turn out to the polls in such a high-interest election and with voting easier than ever before with mail ballots sent to every active registered voter this cycle.

That’s not to say that turnout isn’t significantly up: Turnout in Clark County was about 80 percent this cycle, after subtracting about 75,000 inactive voters who should have been removed from the county’s voter rolls, about 5 percent higher than it was in 2016. Washoe County’s voter turnout was about 83 percent this year, up from 80 percent four years ago, while statewide turnout was about 81 percent, up from 77 percent in the last presidential election.

While those numbers are high, they’re not as high as perhaps some had expected.

“When we came out of the blocks this time with the mail and early voting and numbers were coming in, there was a question of, ‘Could we get to 90 percent turnout?'” Roberts said. “Instead, I think we just saw a pretty major shift in how people vote.”

Democrats had predicted a turnout of about 1.4 million based on vote enthusiasm and turnout in past presidential cycles, which ended up being correct with just a little more than 1.4 million ballots cast in the election. 

“Given the challenges Nevada faced in terms of the economic downturn and the pandemic, I don't think it's surprising that we didn't exceed that expectation,” Lambe said.

Damore, the political science professor at UNLV, additionally noted that the best predictors of turnout are residential stability, age and education, factors that don't bode particularly well for high turnout in Nevada.

“It’s just part of our culture,” Damore said. “This isn’t a civic engagement state.”

Another possible reason that the voter turnout percentage wasn’t even higher this year is because there were simply more registered voters who weren’t actually interested in participating in the election, since, for the first time this year, Nevada offered automatic voter registration at the DMV. About 57.4 percent of the voting age eligible population cast ballots in Nevada in 2016, according to the United States Election Project, compared to about 65.3 percent in 2020.

As far as why more people didn’t participate on Election Day, Roberts speculates that there just weren’t that many people left who wanted to vote.

“I think people were fearful of the long lines they saw in the primary, which wasn’t an apples to apples comparison,” Roberts said. “I think people prepared for that.”

And while mail ballots split essentially two to one in favor of Democrats this election cycle — largely the result of Democrats encouraging voters to take advantage of mail voting while Trump cast doubt on the integrity of the process — political observers say there’s no reason it needs to be that way in elections moving forward. 

"Everybody has the same opportunity to vote, whether it’s mail ballot or traditional absentee or early voting or Election Day. It shouldn’t favor any party. It’s a matter of your strategy, your organization,” Ernaut said. “If one party did better than another in those areas, it’s either because they worked harder or had a better strategy."

The other surprise was the fact that roughly an equal number of Republicans and Democrats took advantage of the state’s new same-day voter registration law, which was passed during the 2019 legislative session. The policy was expected to offer a boost to Democrats, and was staunchly opposed by Republicans, though in the end 22,701 Democrats and 22,886 Republicans took advantage of the same-day registration process this year.

"Whether or not this cycle proves that those who utilize same day weren’t necessarily our voters, I think in the long term same-day registration benefits democracy by expanding turnout,” Jones said.

A voter returns his ballot card in Sun City Summerlin on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Looking forward

For those who know Nevada well, the close election results this year don’t come as a surprise. Greg Ferraro, a Republican consultant in Washoe County, recalled working on President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign when he won Nevada by only 21,500 votes, or 2.6 percentage points, over John Kerry.

“It’s not new that these races continue to be close because Nevada still, I think, is fairly evenly divided despite some of the registration differences,” Ferraro said.

Democrats, however, are still considering this year largely a blue wall year.

“There was no blue wave in 2020 anywhere — in fact, quite the opposite,” Lambe said. “Nevada became part of the Blue Wall that secured a Democratic presidential win against increased turnout and enthusiasm for Trump.”

All the same, Republicans are optimistic.

“I think it was going to be a big lift to completely flip the state,” Bailor said. “So to then see the Nevada Legislature hold Republican seats and pick up seats, I would have to say in Carson City it’s not a wave but we definitely got some Republicans down ticket.”

If this election cycle proved anything, though, it’s that it’s not enough for Republican running statewide to run up the ballot count in the state’s ruby red rural counties if they continue to lose by a wide margin in Clark County and a still sizable margin in Washoe County, as they did in the presidential election this year.

The challenge for Republicans, then, moving forward is to somehow translate those down ballot wins into statewide victories. If they can’t find a way to win across the state, the blue wall will continue.

“The question is where their next statewide candidate is coming from,” Damore said. “They’re going to be in that problem of the primaries, the Dean Heller dance that fell flat in 2018. What’s going to happen in 2022? Are you going to put more hardcore Trump folks in statewide races with Catherine Cortez Masto? That’s probably not going to go well.”

As blue as Nevada has been in recent elections, though, this election served as a reminder to still expect the unexpected.

"Nevada works better when it works like this, when it’s not so partisan and not so polarized,” Ernaut said. “Everyone, regardless of whether their candidate won or lost, should feel a lot better about this election than they have about any of the last few."

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the May Museum at Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Democrats in 2nd District face long odds even as culture shifts, campaigns get more sophisticated

Wearing a bright yellow sweater in the same hue as her campaign signs, a masked Patricia Ackerman stood near a Biden-Harris campaign bus emblazoned with the words “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” not far from the Capitol building in Carson City on a recent Monday.

But the small group that turned out to pick up hand sanitizer and Biden-Harris yard signs and meet candidates like Ackerman was a far cry from a gathering a day earlier. That’s when her Republican opponent for the 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Mark Amodei, took the stage at the Carson City airport a few miles away and spoke to some 13,000 people packed together to see President Donald Trump for a freewheeling, 80-minute speech. 

While her platforms have been much smaller, Ackerman said she still feels a path to victory in a Northern Nevada congressional district that a Democrat has never won in its 40 years of existence and where Republicans hold an 11-point registration advantage.

“This year can’t be compared to the other years. This is new territory,” she said in an interview as the bus idled in the background. “It's actually getting a little overwhelming because we're feeling so much grassroots fire and energy that is forming into this campaign.”

Democratic congressional candidate Patricia Ackerman greets voters during a stop of a Biden-Harris campaign bus tour in Carson City on Oct. 19, 2020. Photo by Michelle Rindels

What’s heartening, she said, is the small-dollar donors who are giving $3, $5, $10. Those contributions — given largely through the Democratic online fundraising platform ActBlue — have driven a comparatively large campaign war chest for Ackerman’s 2020 run, amounting cumulatively to more than $391,000 as of the last federal filing period on Oct. 23.

It’s an amount that far outstrips other Democratic bids in the last two cycles, when Democrats in the district lost their races while their counterparts in the state’s more competitive races bested Republicans. 

Even Amodei noted that this campaign has had a different feel to it. ActBlue has played a major role in helping Ackerman increase fundraising from small donors. He said that this campaign has also been different because of the tone of the race, with more attacks on his record.

“This has clearly been the most intense one,” he said.

In 2018, when Democrats nationwide capitalized on a blue wave that ultimately flipped 41 Republican House seats, Amodei challenger Clint Koble raised less than $162,000 through the entire cycle. Two years earlier, Democratic hopeful Chip Evans banked just under $209,000 in a year that saw Democrats flip two competitive Southern Nevada House seats, Districts 3 and 4, as well as secure victory in an open race for the U.S. Senate and for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 

Koble and Evans ultimately lost their challenges to Amodei by margins of 16.5 and 21.4 percentage points, respectively. 

But observers who came to meet the bus think Ackerman’s run feels different.

“She’s got more money and more organization. That’s it,” said Michael Greedy, chair of the Carson City Democrats. 

Entering the last month of the election with roughly $100,000 cash on hand, federal filings show Ackerman has funneled a vast majority of that money into advertising. In the first two weeks of October alone, she reported spending roughly $70,700 on advertising and printing services, or about three-quarters of the $92,795 she spent overall through that period. 

It also marked the first such filing period in which Ackerman significantly outspent Amodei, who spent just $42,000 over the same two weeks. Amodei entered 2020 with more than $333,000 in his campaign’s coffers and, up until the third quarter of 2020, had largely outraised and outspent any potential rivals. 

Still, these filings do not capture additional spending by Amodei in the last few weeks of the campaign, which include a likely pricey TV spot placed after the last televised presidential debate. Amodei entered the last days of the campaign with a massive cash advantage and a war chest 10 times the size of Ackerman’s — $436,000 to just $43,500, respectively. 

Outside observers have, across the board, forecasted a clear Republican edge in District 2. The Cook Political Report, FiveThirtyEight and the University of Virginia Center for Politics have rated the district as “Solid R.”

And while forecasting final results through early-vote data remains difficult, partisan breakdowns of ballots returned so far in Washoe County — key to any potential Ackerman’s victory — show a Democratic lead of fewer than 2,400 votes as of Friday morning. It’s a number that has narrowed over the last two weeks as Republican in-person votes have gradually whittled at mailed-in Democratic votes, and it may narrow further depending on Election Day turnout. 

Congressman Mark Amodei delivers remarks before Vice President Mike Pence during a campaign stop at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

The issues

A former stage actor and designer of indoor landscapes who now lives in Minden, Ackerman has an eclectic list of interests on her website, including horseback riding, high altitude climbing and organic gardening. While her proud proclamation that she’s in a two-Prius household and hewing to a plant-based diet may put her at odds with some in the deep-red, ranch-heavy rurals, she said she’s adept at finding common ground.

“We feel a path to victory,” she said. “Relationship-building comes easier to me I think than the average person. Again, that's just my nature. I understand teamwork. I'm a retired climber. So as a high altitude climber you know what it's like to rely on someone, otherwise you can lose your life. So I bring those skills and that ability to be able to work together toward that goal.”

After running an unsuccessful campaign for Assembly in a deeply Republican rural district in 2018, Ackerman’s campaign has been laser-focused on the issue of health care. She lost her own mother because of lack of access to adequate health care in rural Nevada; Ackerman was unable to find a doctor who would take a Medicare patient in a timely fashion, and her mother died a day before her scheduled appointment.

“Just like when Medicare and Social Security were first introduced, there's bugs that have to be worked out. And let's continue to build on that,” she said about the Affordable Care Act.

Amodei, a lawyer by trade who grew up in Carson City and is a former state legislator, has held the seat since 2011 and is well-known in the district. While he has taken moderate stances on some issues, including calling for a pathway to legal status for people living in the country illegally and opposing a project to store waste at Yucca Mountain, he voted with Republican Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy 94 percent of the time in his current term.

“Mark had voted repeatedly to destroy the ACA. And the ACA is the only national law that actually protects pre existing conditions,” Ackerman said. “Currently, there has been no other option put on the table and that's scary if you're going to go and repeal something without something to protect people, that's unconscionable.”

In an interview this week, Amodei defended his votes on the Affordable Care Act, and he said his position has been distorted. Amodei said he would like to keep some aspects of the bill in place, including protections for pre-existing conditions.  

“I think we ought to keep the good stuff in the ACA,” he said. “And there’s plenty of other work to be done and we ought to be doing it instead of sitting there trying to rat each other out and out scream each other on talking points on health care.”

Congressional candidate Patricia Ackerman at Washoe Democratic Party headquarters in Reno on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Winning the district

The district, which was created after the 1980 census and includes Reno and rural counties across northeastern Nevada, has a partisan lean toward Republicans of about seven percentage points greater than the nation as a whole, according to the Cook Political Report. 

But buried within the district-wide view is a more nuanced picture, and Democratic consultants see a potential, albeit longshot, path to victory. Most of the Democrats who have won in the district have lost by more than 15 percentage points. But there have been some exceptions. 

The closest a Democrat has ever come to winning was in 2006, when Jill Derby, a regent in the Nevada System of Higher Education, lost to then-Secretary of State Dean Heller by 5.4 points. And since then, the electorate in Washoe County, the most populous area of the district, has changed in a way that could give Democrats more of a chance. 

In 2008, Democrats began to close a gap in voter registration in Washoe County. Although Republicans still lead in voter registration, the two parties are virtually neck-and-neck. At the same time, the share of independents in Washoe County has grown significantly. To win the district, Ackerman would likely need to win by a large margin in Washoe County — which has about two-thirds of the voters in the district — to offset the significant registration advantage that Republicans have in rural Nevada. 

But Washoe County is hard to predict with voters shifting their political allegiances, depending on specific candidates, and often splitting their tickets in presidential election years. In recent years, even when Republican presidential and gubernatorial candidates have lost in Washoe County, Republicans have not only held onto the congressional seat, but have won countywide. 

In 2008, for example, then-Sen. Barack Obama won Washoe County by more than 20,000 votes. Derby, who ran again for the congressional seat that year, lost Washoe County by about 2,000 votes. Similarly, in 2016, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won Washoe County by about 3,000 votes, Amodei’s opponent Chip Evans lost the county by about 17,000 votes

And in a media landscape often consumed with partisan battles, especially in the race for the White House, Amodei has highlighted the fact that he’s a member of the Bipartisan Working Group, which has an equal number of Democratic and Republican members of the House. 

While Amodei has continued to reach out to the Republican base by appearing at events like the Trump rally, he said he has run a campaign meant to appeal to a wide swath of voters. While his social media activity is sparse, he does a weekly “Minute with Mark” radio segment, which also includes versions in Spanish, and publishes an e-newsletter that captures his folksy snark.

“I would never dream of running a campaign that says, ‘It’s a Republican district and I’m a Republican,’” Amodei said. “That, quite frankly, is every bit as shallow of what I’ve been critical of the campaign process in general on.” 

Rep. Mark Amodei at a rally headlined by President Donald Trump at the Carson City Airport in Carson City on Oct. 18, 2020. (Isaac Hoops/The Nevada Independent)

Kimi Cole, a rural liaison and coordinator for the Ackerman campaign, said that the campaign has worked to use a variety of channels to connect with voters during the pandemic, including in outlying areas. 

In the past, campaigns were more focused on “retail politics;” this time, Ackerman’s Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of video testimonials from Democratic veterans calling for improvements to the VA and Ackerman herself promising to be a representative for the district who is “actually going to work for a change.”

“There is a social media strategy this time,” Cole said. 

Catherine Byrne, the state controller, said she thinks Ackerman may have built up something of a base and name recognition from running last cycle for a Douglas County Assembly seat held by Jim Wheeler. But she said she thinks sexism and anti-California sentiment in rural areas is working against Ackerman, who previously lived in California.

Like others observing the race, she thinks narrowing the gap would be a victory in and of itself. It’s a philosophy taken by Deborah Chang, the Democratic candidate who is following in Ackerman’s footsteps by running a long-shot bid this cycle for Wheeler’s seat, even though Wheeler got twice as many votes as Ackerman in 2018.

“There's still a message to be offered and also some points to be made that some of the more conservative policies actually don't benefit the people,” Chang said. “I think it's going to take some time for more progressive ideas to be considered. And it might take a couple of election cycles, or maybe even a couple generations.”

After decades of backing Republican presidential candidates before swinging blue for Obama, Clinton, Washoe again a battleground in 2020

For decades, Washoe County has been a study in contrasts.

Take the 1964 election. The overwhelmingly Democratic electorate in Washoe at the time voted to give its party’s presidential nominee, Lyndon B. Johnson, his first full term in office, a little less than a year after he ascended to the presidency in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. But residents of Nevada’s second largest county that year also resoundingly supported Paul Laxalt, the Republican challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon.

A decade later, Washoe would again back Laxalt, by then the former governor of Nevada, for U.S. Senate, buoying him with a 8,334-vote margin, or about 19 percentage points, this time helping him defeat a young man by the name of Harry Reid by 624 votes statewide. At the same time, Washoe resoundingly supported Mike O’Callaghan, the popular Democratic governor, in his 1974 re-election bid by an overwhelming 47 percentage point margin.

It has happened time and time again in Washoe. Over the last 60 years, there have been 20 election cycles in which two marquee races — presidential, gubernatorial or senatorial — were on the ballot in the same year. Of those, Washoe County split its votes between the Republican and Democratic candidates in half of the cycles. 

In the other 10 cycles, Washoe voted for two Republicans seven times and two Democrats three times. Four of those double Republican wins were when the county was made up of more Democrats than Republicans, and two of those double Democratic wins were when the county had more Republicans than Democrats.

"When the state was two and a half to one Democrat, Paul Laxalt was elected governor and United States senator twice,” said Pete Ernaut, a longtime Republican consultant in the state. “That goes back to the spirit of Nevada, which I think is still alive.”

Most recently, Washoe County was responsible for helping to carry former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a narrow victory over President Donald Trump. She won the county by 1.3 percentage points and the state as a whole by 2.4 percentage points. But Washoe also voted in support of Joe Heck, the Republican congressman, though his slim, 0.8 percentage point margin in Washoe wasn’t enough to carry him to victory over Catherine Cortez Masto, the Democratic former attorney general, who drummed up so much support in Clark County that she won while losing every other county in the state.

Political observers have a number of theories about why Washoe has been so swingy — and so willing to ticket split — over the decades. They chalk it up to the small town feel in Washoe, home to Reno, nicknamed the biggest little city, where the kind of retail politics that can feel somewhat antiquated in the digital age still matters. They chalk it up to personality, saying that who a candidate is and what they stand for matters more than the D or R behind their name. They increasingly chalk it up to the significant growth of registered nonpartisans in the county.

With politics polarized at the national level, some believe the state’s independent streak — with Washoe County as a microcosm of that — may be fading. Ticket splitting is becoming less and less common around the country, and candidates down the ballot are often tied to the person at the top of the ticket.

Nevada has increasingly been thought of as a blue state, and even Washoe County has swung bluer than it has in a long time in recent years. Barack Obama, in 2008, was the first Democratic presidential candidate Washoe voted to back since LBJ — and the county voted again for Obama in 2012 and then for Clinton in 2016. Last cycle, Washoe voted to support both Jacky Rosen and Steve Sisolak for U.S. senator and governor, respectively — two Democrats from the south — snubbing their Republican opponents from the north.

Though Washoe may appear bluer than it’s been in a long time, Republicans and Democrats alike are taking Washoe County seriously this year — and they have to. Besides the presidential race, there’s a key state Senate seat that if Democrats flip while holding on to two competitive seats could mean Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, and Republicans only have a 0.2 percentage point voter registration advantage in the county.

“The Democrats have been fired up and done amazing outreach and amazing work for multiple cycles, and we’ve seen some incredible wins,” said state Sen. Julia Ratti, a Democrat who represents parts of Reno and Sparks. “But it still just always feels like it’s in play. The margins are always close enough that I would never take anything for granted.”

If the year 2020 proves one thing, it may be this: There’s Red America, there’s Blue America, and then there’s Washoe County.

Campaign signs in along McCarran Boulevard on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The rise of nonpartisans

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve is well acquainted with Washoe County’s independent streak. She is, after all, a registered nonpartisan herself.

As a small business owner turned politician, Schieve has witnessed firsthand some of the most significant changes in Washoe County over the last decade, from the revitalization of Midtown in Reno to a tech boom that has brought Tesla, Panasonic, Amazon and Apple, among others, to Northern Nevada. As tech companies have sought to expand in tax friendly Nevada instead of California, their employees have flocked to the Silver State, finding that things that seemed out of reach in the Bay Area, such as owning a home, are attainable in Washoe County.

Schieve said those employees have brought with them a much more socially liberal mindset, some a bit more pro-business than the typical Democrat.

“There’s a pretty big California influence happening here,” Schieve said. “They tend to be much more socially liberal, but economically, fiscally responsible.”

At the same time, Schieve has noticed a growing disillusionment with the major political parties as people find their views don’t line up with the traditional party lines.

“People say to me all the time, ‘I might have a D or an R behind my name but I’m so much more a nonpartisan.’ I hear that all the time. I don’t think it’s black and white,” Schieve said. “‘There’s a lot of things I agree with D’s on, a lot of things I agree with R’s on.’ I hear that a lot. I don’t think it’s cut and dry.”

The data bear out that nonpartisans are playing a bigger role in Washoe County than they ever have. Voter registration numbers are up by about 78,000 countywide over the last decade. Nonpartisans, who have seen about 33,000 new registrations over that period, make up a little less than half of that, which has driven down the share of both Democrats and Republicans in the electorate.

Nonpartisans currently make up about 22.5 percent of voters in Washoe County — up from 15.4 percent in 2010 — with Republicans and Democrats now nearly even in their voter registration numbers, 35.4 percent and 35.2 percent, respectively.

As their numbers have grown, a lot of time and effort has been spent on figuring out just who, exactly, nonpartisans are. Some are what are sometimes called “closet partisans,” those who consistently vote the party line even though they are registered as nonpartisans. Others are voters who split on issues between the two parties — perhaps someone who is concerned about climate change but fiscally conservative.

“I think part of it is they don’t feel at home in either of the major two parties,” said Greg Ferraro, a Republican consultant in Reno. “You can mix and match the issues because they don’t feel that either party is representative of their collective viewpoint.”

There’s a third subset of nonpartisans, those who are registered to vote but not actively politically engaged.

“I think the main commonality in all of those groups is they generally don’t like the conflict associated with politics,” said Jeremy Gelman, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Not registering is a way to express that displeasure. These are people who watched the debate and were put off by it.”

There is, however, a great deal of speculation as to how swingy nonpartisan voters truly are and how many of them are undecided about, say, whether to vote for Donald Trump or Joe Biden for president. 

A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found about 92 percent of likely voters in Nevada have decided who they’re voting for; only 8 percent said they could still change their minds. But among those not registered with either major political party, that certainty dropped to 83 percent, with 15 percent saying their vote could change.

“There are a lot of people moving into Washoe County from California. That’s a certainty,” said state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who represents parts of Reno, unincorporated Washoe County and Carson City. “But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion about which way they’re going to vote.”

All the same, Democrats have had more success in Washoe County as of late than they’ve had in the last six decades. In addition to the growth of the tech industry, Ernaut attributes recent Democratic successes to the fact that college educated women just aren’t voting Republican.

“Traditionally Washoe County has really been driven by women voters,” Ernaut said. “So when you take the fact that most college educated women aren't voting Republican, regardless of what party they're in, and you add to that a changing and more liberal demographic, though registration is sort of even, I think from a performance standpoint Washoe is much more decidedly Democratic than it's ever been before."

A crowd listens to Douglas Emhoff, husband of Vice Presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris speak outside Washoe Democratic Party headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Looking back through time

Although Washoe County is voting more Democratic than it typically has, it once used to be an overwhelmingly Democratic county — at least in voter registration. In 1960, Democrats had a 14 percentage point margin over Republicans in the county and yet overwhelmingly voted for Richard Nixon for president by 10.4 percentage points.

Republicans wouldn’t overtake Democrats in voter registration numbers until 1984 and still Washoe County voted year over year — with the exception of LBJ in 1964 — for Republican presidential candidates.

“Nixon wins Washoe County in ‘60, Kennedy wins Nevada, but Nixon wins Washoe. Nixon wins again in ’68 and all the way until ’08 it is Republican,” Ferraro said. “So I don’t know that registration is an indicator.”

It’s not exactly clear why the tides turned red in Washoe in the 1980s. Some say it had to do with the increasing number of retirees moving to the county. Others attribute it to Ronald Reagan and the rise of Reagan Democrats. Whatever the case, it became increasingly popular for politicians to shift their registrations from Democrat to Republican.

"You had prominent Republicans like former Lieutenant Governor Bob Cashell, former state Sen. Randolph Townsend or [former Rep.] Jim Santini,” Ernaut said. “When you had people changing parties, and it became sort of fashionable to do that, the whole tide changed in the early 80s in Washoe County for 25 years."

But even after Washoe County turned red, its residents didn’t just stop voting for Democrats. In fact, they still won the county, sometimes overwhelmingly. 

In 1988, Richard Bryan, at the time the Democratic governor of Nevada, carried Washoe County by 4.3 points in his successful bid to oust U.S. Sen. Chic Hecht, a Republican. 

Reid lost Washoe County again in 1986 — though he was still elected to the U.S. Senate — but carried it in three of his four re-election bids, including by 5.1 points in 2010 against Sharron Angle, a former Assemblywoman from Washoe County. He also only lost Washoe by 2.3 points to John Ensign in 1998, though Republicans had an 8.8 point voter registration advantage in the county.

Gov. Bob Miller carried Washoe County by 12.4 points in his 1994 re-election bid, successfully defeating Republican Jim Gibbons, a then-assemblyman representing Washoe County.

And as voter registration numbers have narrowed between Republicans and Democrats over the last decade, Washoe County voters have only ramped up their ticket splitting. In 2010, voters supported Reid for re-election but backed Brian Sandoval for governor — over Rory Reid, the elder Reid’s son. In 2012, they voted for Obama for president but Dean Heller for the U.S. Senate. In 2016, they backed Clinton and Heck.

“In Washoe County I still think it matters how well that person is thought of. It’s not a county that’s going to go right down the line, or at least history tells us that’s not the case,” Ferraro said.

While Democrats carried the top two statewide races in 2018, the rest of the statewide offices were split. Washoe County backed Democrats Kate Marshall and Catherine Byrne for lieutenant governor and controller, respectively, but supported Republicans Wes Duncan, Barbara Cegavske and Bob Beers for attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. And the county continued to back Republican Mark Amodei for Congress.

“Here’s the paradox in Washoe County. Last election, non-presidential, you’ve got half D, half R in Washoe County,” Ferraro said. “Rosen wins but Amodei wins. Cegavske wins but Marshall wins. Duncan wins but Sisolak wins. It’s mixed.”

Though ticket-splitting is increasingly uncommon across the nation, it still somehow seems to be possible in Washoe County. Most people attribute it, at least in part, to the kind of small town feel that’s still possible in Northern Nevada.

“I remember being at a Reno Aces game — Dean Heller was in the Senate — and after a game, I turned behind me and Dean Heller is standing there all by himself watching his grandkids run the bases too,” Kieckhefer said. “It’s that kind of access and exposure and interaction that people get that is something that helps drive some of those weird outcomes in elections.”

But the nationalization of Nevada politics may be starting to change some of that. Heller, the beloved Carson City boy who earned respect from Democrats during his tenure as secretary of state, lost his re-election bid to the U.S. Senate by 3.6 percentage points in Washoe to Rosen, the first-term congresswoman from Henderson, after carrying the county by 11.1 points in 2012.

Rosen’s campaign had painted Heller as “Senator Spineless,” the nail in his coffin his hot and cold relationship with President Donald Trump and his waffling on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It was no match for the goodwill he had earned.

“You’re starting to see that creeping of the nationalization into Washoe County politics,” Gelman said. “I think the best evidence of that was Dean Heller lost Washoe County.”

A rally in support of law enforcement organized by the Nevada Republican Party on Thursday, July 30, 2020 outside the Legislature in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

The next three weeks

Residents of Washoe County still have a lot of faith in the power of retail politics. Kieckhefer said that one-on-one interactions with voters can be “incredibly powerful” for a candidate in his experience.

“If someone has a real strong reaction to something that you voted for or something you voted against, walking through that thought process with a voter about why you did something is a really powerful way to connect with that voter,” Kieckhefer said. “Demonstrating you’re thoughtful and you do things for a reason, it’s not a reaction on a party line, they tend to respect that.”

Kieckhefer is of the mind that Washoe County voters are discerning and unwilling to buy into what he framed as the “broad brushstrokes” of national politics that state and local candidates are often painted with.

“I think that the majority of people see through that crap, frankly. You can’t sit here and try to tell me that Catherine Cortez Masto is the same thing as Nancy Pelosi and that’s going to drive my vote,” Kieckhefer said. “That’s not how people in Northern Nevada are going to do that.”

The question this year, then, is how the power of those personal relationships built through retail politics might be diminished by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, perhaps the better question is how they might be enhanced.

Ratti said that where a candidate might have once been excited to get 40 people to show up for a town hall at a library, they can host a virtual town hall over Zoom and a couple hundred people will show up.

“In some ways, the pandemic in our political lives and our personal lives has increased connection,” Ratti said. “We’re not doing the same things we used to, but we’re still connecting.”

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns have made significant investments in Washoe County this cycle. Trump Victory spokesman Keith Schipper said that the campaign has made more than 600,000 voter contacts in Washoe and has had staff on the ground in the county for more than a year.

In fact, the first Trump Victory office anywhere in the United States outside of the national headquarters was in Reno, Schipper noted.

“All the people that have visited, the investment we have made, obviously Washoe having the first field office in the country shows not only how important Washoe County is for winning Nevada, but it says a lot when you put the first office in the country in Washoe County,” Schipper said.

Trump was initially scheduled to rally supporters in Reno last month, but the venue was changed to Minden after officials at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport scuttled the event on the grounds that it would have violated state coronavirus health and safety directives. Several thousand supporters, most of them not wearing masks, showed up to the outdoor rally at the Minden-Tahoe Airport.

At the same time the Biden campaign, which has primarily run a virtual campaign since the beginning of the pandemic, though it recently announced a transition to some in-person campaigning, has been recruiting volunteers, phone banking and texting voters from afar and recently opened a campaign material distribution center at the Washoe County Democratic Party headquarters. The campaign is also now doing lit drops at voter doors four days a week with plans to ramp that up.

Alana Mounce, Biden’s state director and most recently the executive director of the Nevada State Democratic Party, attributed recent Democratic electoral success in Washoe County to the effort Democrats have put in to get voters to turn out. In 2018, Republicans had a 1.9 percentage point voter registration advantage over Democrats but Rosen defeated Heller by 3.6 points.

“In 2018, Democrats had a 2 percent voter registration disadvantage and because of the work that we focused on with independent voters, nonpartisan voters, we were able to win in Washoe County,” Mounce said. “2020 is no different. Part of the broad base of people that we are talking to, engaging with, is our nonpartisan voters, especially in Washoe County, but across the state."

With ballots now mailed out to every active registered voter in Nevada, the unknown this year is just exactly what turnout will look like in November. The primary, which saw more than 490,000 ballots cast, the vast majority of them mail-in ballots, was one of the highest turnout primaries in the state’s history.

The recent New York Times/Siena College poll taken earlier this month found that about 42 percent of respondents plan to early vote — traditionally the most popular voting method in Nevada — with another 27 percent voting by mail and 24 person voting in-person on Election Day. This year is also the first year that voters are able to register to vote on Election Day and still cast a ballot.

“I expect turnout to be very, very high, between mail-in ballots, early voting, and in-person voting with same-day registration,” Ferraro said. “We have a presidential race that will drive turnout higher … I think all of those combine to drive turnout really high.”

As unusual as this year has been, it has made it even harder to forecast what the outcome will be next month.

“The ways that we have contact with people are just so different that I don’t trust my experiences the same way that I might in another year,” Ratti said. “I feel less confident about how I even think about what’s happening in our county. And it’s not that I’m not having contact, but the contact is just so different that trying to benchmark it against any prior experience feels difficult, feels unreliable.”

As for the future of Washoe County, those who have worked in politics for a long time in the county are hopeful that its community spirit will persist even in the face of a polarized national electorate.

"I think the natural order of things at some point will mean that the pendulum will swing back to the center in Nevada,” Ernaut said, “because that's what Nevada's DNA is — to be more center and more independent.”

State Senator Heidi Seevers-Gansert drops campaign literature in Northwest Reno on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Former Las Vegas man facing charges of double voting in 2016 election

Nevada officials are charging a former Las Vegas resident with double voting in the 2016 election, a relatively rare charge that nonetheless has received more attention amid unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

Prosecutors with Attorney General Aaron Ford’s office brought the charges against Craig Frank last year, accusing him of voting in both Nevada and Arkansas during early voting periods for the 2016 election. The case was filed on Aug. 13, 2019 in Clark County District Court, and has a jury trial set for February 2021.

The prosecution, which was touted in the attorney general’s recently released 2019-2020 biennial report, was not publicized or reported at the time it was filed. Some of the details of the case were reported last month by the Associated Press.

It’s the first prosecution related to double voting brought by Ford, a Democrat, since he’s taken office in 2018, and just the third prosecuted case of double voting in the state since at least 2011. 

Nevada law holds that double voting in an election is punishable by a Category D felony, with a sentence of up to one to four years in prison. 

Ford has faced criticism from Republicans (namely former Sen. Dean Heller) that his office is not taking the alleged threat of voter fraud seriously. Heller said on a press call last month that Ford’s office isn’t prosecuting cases of double voting.

“While voter fraud is rare, it undermines trust in our election system,” attorney general’s office spokeswoman Monica Moazez said in an email. “After an investigation and review, our office has charged Craig Frank with voting twice, in-person, and he was indicted in the 8th Judicial District Court. This case remains on-going and we cannot provide any further details at this time.”

According to court records and grand jury testimony, Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske’s office reached out to state law enforcement with information about people who potentially voted twice during the 2016 presidential election.

Nevada is one of 30 member states of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) nonprofit, a data-sharing operation that helps states update their voter registration information based on individuals who move out of state, die, or duplicate registrations within the same state.

In 2018, a subgroup of states in the ERIC compact agreed to share, analyze and compare voter data from the midterm election to see whether there were any instances of voters casting a ballot in more than one state. The system checked not only names, but also birthdates, social security numbers and signatures either on a mail ballot or polling places. 

That cross-check identified a potential 22 voters who may have cast a ballot in Nevada and another state in the 2018 election; the secretary of state’s office forwarded that information to the state Department of Public Safety’s Investigation Division, which is under state law required to help with cases of possible election fraud.

All 22 cases are active, and none have been formally charged. Part of the reason may be the wording of Nevada’s prohibition on voting in the “same election” — a term that is undefined and could be challenged given differences in state ballots during midterm elections. 

But in the 2016 presidential election, Nevada instead used a data analysis run by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck (now suspended and subject to litigation) to identify instances of voters casting a ballot in more than one state.

Deputy Secretary of State for Election Wayne Thorley said in an interview that the system identified 21 individuals who may have voted in two states during the 2016 election, including Frank. Of those 21 individuals, two were prosecuted in Arizona for voting twice, several suspected voters have since died, and the rest have not yet been prosecuted.

Investigators said they obtained records showing that Frank voted early at a polling place in Benton, Arkansas on Oct. 28, and then cast another vote in Clark County on Oct. 31. According to voting records on file with the Clark County Election Department, Craig was a registered Republican at the time of the 2016 election.

A state investigator told a grand jury that they contacted Frank directly before obtaining those records “to determine if there was any value in conducting a criminal investigation or not.” Frank allegedly told the investigator that he had indeed voted in both states, and had moved to Nevada to start a job as a teacher with the Clark County School District.

Frank sent an email to the investigator the same day, saying “he had voted in both elections and that he hadn't intended to violate the law and he wasn't aware he couldn't do that.”

Frank has since pled not guilty in the case. Attorneys representing him told the court at an arraignment hearing last year that he has since moved to North Dakota and is working to become a train engineer.

An attorney for Frank did not return a request for comment on Tuesday. 

Nevada has seen just a handful of cases of double voting in recent election cycles, a miniscule number compared to the more than a million ballots typically cast during elections in the state.

There have been at least two prosecutions related to double voting in Nevada since 2011; one was a Republican woman who attempted to vote twice in the 2012 election to try to “show how easy it would be to commit voter fraud with just a signature.” The other was a woman who registered to vote under two names in the 2012 election (as both a Republican and Democrat) and then cast a ballot under each name. Both individuals pled guilty to those charges.

The secretary of state’s office said it had evidence that three noncitizens illegally cast a ballot in the 2016 election, and in 2018, Clark County election officials were forced to call a special mail-only election in the Republican primary for public administrator, after discovering up to 43 possible double votes had been cast because of faulty instruction by poll workers.

Pandemic may narrow Trump, Biden race in Nevada as Republicans campaign in person, Democrats stay virtual

Nevada Democrats have, for years, been fine-tuning their political machine.

Two years ago was, perhaps, their best proof of concept. Democrats spirited away a key U.S. Senate seat, took control of the governor’s mansion for the first time in two decades and secured a veto-proof majority in one chamber of the Legislature while retaining a majority in the other. It was a blow to Republicans, who had devoted significant resources to building an operation they hoped would rival Democrats’.

The playbook for Democrats’ recent electoral successes has been relatively simple: Register as many voters as possible, recruit and train volunteers, and use those volunteers to make phone calls and knock doors to get those voters to turn out to the polls.

The thinking heading into 2020 was this: If Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist senator from Vermont, was the nominee, Nevada, which has tended to favor moderate Democrats in recent statewide elections over progressive ones, would certainly be in play. If it was Joe Biden, the middle-of-the-road former vice president, the state would be much less so.

But in the time of coronavirus, a significant chunk of the Democratic playbook has been torn out and tossed out the window, with campaigns, the party and outside organizations nixing door-knocking from their get-out-the-vote plans in favor of phone banking, text message campaigns and literature drops. They’re also working double time, not only to persuade voters who to vote for but how, exactly, to vote in the middle of the pandemic.

Two months out from Election Day, Democrats are facing a Nevada that feels much more in play than many anticipated it to be, though it’s hard to tell because there has been no public polling on the race since late April. That survey, taken by Democratic pollster John Anzalone, found Biden up by only 4 percentage points in the Silver State.

Some Democrats point to the pandemic, specifically, the switch to a virtual campaign and the challenges associated with educating voters on how to participate by mail. Others say that contests always feel tighter as they draw nearer.

"Every experiment done on talking to voters and persuading voters points to old fashioned door knocking and conversations in person as the number one way to persuade and mobilize voters,” said Megan Jones, a longtime Democratic operative in the state. “It absolutely has an effect and will have an effect and is an important component of what we do on the ground. But, frankly, so is keeping people safe and protecting people’s lives.”

Democrats’ absence from the field has been filled by Republicans, who halted in-person campaigning at the beginning of the pandemic but resumed door-knocking and in-person events in mid-June. And they’re champing at the bit to get President Donald Trump re-elected in a state he lost by 2.4 percentage points four years ago, and they are eager to prove the strength of their political operation, which they activated early this cycle.

Scott Scheid, a Republican consultant who worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said the Trump Victory team is already bigger at this point than Romney’s was by Election Day in 2012. Scheid said that Romney’s campaign totaled 40 staffers by November, where the Trump Victory campaign already has 60.

“We’re sitting here in mid- to late August, and we’ve passed what Romney’s campaign was able to accomplish in ‘12,” Scheid said. “Part of that is the early start and investment that the Trump Victory team made shortly after President Trump’s election, getting staffed here early, personally developing relationships with these volunteers and getting engaged and active early on.”

There is, however, one Democratic-aligned group out in the field with Republicans: the Culinary Union, the politically powerful labor organization that represents 60,000 hotel workers on the Las Vegas Strip and across the state.

The union’s workers have been hard hit by the virus. Forty members of the Culinary Union and their immediate family have died from COVID-19 and 367 have been hospitalized with the virus, while thousands more have suffered financially after casinos shuttered in March and have been slow to fully reopen. Ninety-eight percent of the union’s members were furloughed this spring, and only about half are back to work.

But the Culinary Union, which failed earlier this year to defeat Sanders in Nevada’s Democratic presidential caucus but otherwise has a reputation for turning tides in close elections, isn’t sitting idly by. The union deployed more than 200 of its members, most of them workers who have yet to return to their jobs, into the field on August 1, an earlier and larger political operation than it has activated in previous cycles.

“This is a global pandemic. Everyone around the world has been deeply impacted, but Culinary Union members are resilient,” union spokeswoman Bethany Khan said in a text message. “Nothing is promised and that’s why we are committed to defeat Trump on Election Day in Nevada.”

The outcome of the election right now is anyone’s guess. Republicans and Democrats alike are preparing for an intense race at the top of the ticket, with implications for down-ballot races, from legislative seats to school board contests.

If there is only one thing Republicans and Democrats in Nevada agree on, it’s likely this: Two blue waves do not a blue state make.

The Republican operation

Trump, standing on the South Lawn of the White House, accepted the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday, capping off four days of party festivities centered in and around Washington, D.C. instead of Charlotte, where the entirety of the Republican National Convention was originally slated to be held before the coronavirus pandemic. In Nevada, Trump’s campaign spent those four days rallying the troops by hosting volunteer trainings, MAGA meetups and a thank-you barbecue for law enforcement officers, 

Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, speaking to volunteers in Reno on Wednesday, issued a call to action: Get Trump elected, and he’ll carry Republicans down the ticket to victory with him. This year, the biggest focuses down ballot for Republicans are two competitive congressional seats and a handful of key legislative races.

“If Trump wins Nevada, they will all win. So long as we keep our focus on Trump getting elected, I do believe it will have a sweeping effect with some of the other races that are across the state,” Heller said. “So keep the focus ‘Trump Trump Trump’ all the time, and I think we will be successful.”

And much of the focus over the last year has been, as it necessarily is in a presidential cycle, on Trump. While Democrats were still sparring over who their nominee would be, the Trump Victory campaign was training volunteers and otherwise making preparations for its general election campaign. 

In total, the campaign reports that it has made 2 million attempted voter contacts in Nevada this cycle, a statistic campaign officials say only includes doors knocked and phone calls made and not numbers of those contacted through their texting program or who have downloaded their official campaign app.

“We’re excited where our capacity sits and where our voter contacts are at this point,” said Jeremy Hughes, Pacific regional political director for the Trump Victory campaign. “Knowing where we sit and where we’re at historically, I think we will have the best ground game in Nevada history on Election Day.”

In March, two days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and four days before non-essential businesses in Nevada were ordered to shut their doors, the Trump Victory team transitioned to an entirely virtual campaign in the span of 24 hours. Then, as businesses started opening their doors again across the state, so, too, did campaign, slowly returning to door knocking in mid-June.

“It makes a massive difference,” said Keith Schipper, Trump Victory campaign spokesman, of the campaign’s door-knocking program. “We’re doing it safely. Our volunteers are adhering to all the guidelines. But it is more of a personal impact when you’re able to have a conversation face to face about what’s at stake in Nevada.”

It took Trump until late July to embrace masks, and there was little-to-no mask wearing or social distancing at Trump’s White House speech Thursday night. However, Schipper said the campaign requires staffers to wear masks and that masks are required inside campaign offices. He added that volunteers are told that the campaign requires masks, though he noted that they can’t enforce whether volunteers actually follow those rules while out door-knocking.

Republicans are hoping that their decision to return to the field, as well as host in-person events, will give them an edge over Democrats.

“It’s hard to try to manufacture that excitement over the computer,” Schipper said.

One area where the Republicans have, notably, gained ground is with their voter registration numbers. Republicans out-registered Democrats during the month of July statewide by about 862 voters, and, in Democratic-leaning Clark County, Republicans have registered 158 more voters this month so far than Democrats, as of Saturday afternoon.

Still, Democrats had a sizable 5.7 percentage point voter registration lead over Republicans statewide as of the beginning of August, greater than the 5.4 and 4.5 percentage point advantages they held over Republicans at the same point in 2016 and 2018, respectively. Their voter registration advantage is, however, smaller than the 6.1 percentage point advantage they had before the general election in 2016 but bigger than the 4.8 percentage point advantage they had in 2018.

Even Democrats acknowledge that their voter registration efforts have been stymied this year by the pandemic, with in-person operations for the most part halted and, particularly, in light of a three-month closure of DMV offices across the state, which diminished the impact of a new automatic voter registration law that kicked in on Jan. 1. In the first three months of the year, Democrats gained more than 20,000 new voters statewide, while Republicans gained 4,500; since then, Democrats have gained about 7,000, while Republicans gained 8,500.

Hughes said that while some people like to say that "the registration numbers are looking good for Republicans because the Democrat machine isn’t working,” Democrats are still registering voters — Republicans are just registering more.

Republicans are also viewing the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s decision to quickly push through expanded mail-in voting during a special session this summer as a sign that Democrats are worried. Generally, efforts to expand mail-in voting are seen as benefiting Democrats more than Republicans.

“To do it at the last minute was, they clearly are seeing something in the numbers to make them think their numbers aren’t going to turn out,” Hughes said. “We don’t talk about how it will affect our GOTV strategy, but I think the last-minute panic from the governor shows that they’re worried about the state.”

The Democratic operation

While the Republicans try to run a campaign that looks more like the typical Democratic playbook, Democrats are re-writing their own. Their watch parties for the Democratic National Convention earlier this month were virtual. Their phone banks are virtual. Even their weekly appreciation events and supporter get-togethers are virtual.

"Obviously, organizing in a pandemic has never been done before,” organizing director Susana Cervantes said. “We are literally writing the book on this.”

The good news, the Biden campaign says, is that so much of their campaign was virtual already. During the caucus, the hot topic was “relational organizing” — that is, having supporters download an app and then use that app to encourage their friends and family members to turn out to vote. Democrats also organized virtually in other ways, such as in rural Nevada where Democrats hosted major presidential candidates for tele-town halls.

“They have really taken the lead in a lot of ways in terms of teaching the rest of us how to do this well in a general election,” said Shelby Wiltz, coordinated campaign director and, previously, the state party’s caucus director. “We’ve actually learned a lot from our rural counties about organizing virtually."

Wiltz said the Biden campaign has “not missed a beat” and that the all-virtual strategy has not stopped them from connecting to voters, whether through virtual phone banks or encouraging people to download their official app to send text messages to their networks. The campaign has even found that the virtual campaign makes it easier to recruit volunteers who wouldn’t have shown up to an office but are more than happy to help from their couch.

Additionally, the campaign has been able to lean on the infrastructure of the Nevada State Democratic Party, which operates year-round and has its own volunteer base instead of having to stand up an operation every election cycle, as other state parties across the country do.

But an all-virtual campaign isn’t without its drawbacks. For instance, on Wednesday evening, organizer Yesenia Moya was tasked with leading a virtual, bilingual phone bank of about a dozen people over Zoom.

“For those folks that already know how to make calls, please feel free, the links are in the chat,” Moya said. “If you've never made calls, please hold off for just a second.”

Moya walked the group through the process of phone banking and answered their questions, just as she might have had the event been in person. But there were other things out of her control, such as people joining and leaving the phone bank at different times and difficulties trying to get participants to identify themselves over Zoom so that she could walk them through the set-up process. 

They’re the kind of challenges common to hosting any kind of meeting over Zoom — now familiar to many — but also the kind of difficulties that don’t exist when attending an event in person.

The Biden campaign declined to provide the number of staff it has hired, only saying the number is in the dozens, or the number of voter contacts they have made. The campaign does, however, say that it has hundreds of volunteers who are talking to thousands of voters on a weekly basis.

Wiltz said that the campaign has actually seen voter engagement increase because of the switch to a virtual campaign, possibly because more people are receptive to that kind of outreach in the current milieu of the pandemic.

"I don’t think us valuing the health and safety of our volunteers means that we are at a disadvantage here,” Wiltz said. “I believe we’re strong, we’re motivated, we are working hard, our volunteers are excited and energized and we have a ton of engagement we’re seeing and a lot of conversations we’re having."

Biden’s Nevada team also isn’t taking the blue waves of 2016 and 2018 for granted.

"People in Nevada know this, and I think the campaign knows this well nationally, that Nevada is a battleground state. We’ve seen it cycle after cycle. We know we have swing districts, we have swing counties, we have a lot of nonpartisan voters, we have a lot of undecided voters,” Wiltz said. “I think that our campaign knows very well just how competitive Nevada is.”

Four years ago, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat Trump in Nevada, but by a narrow 2.4 percentage-point margin. And Trump actually won the suburban part of Clark County, as represented by Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, by a percentage point.

It was a far closer race than the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections in Nevada, in which Barack Obama defeated John McCain, the late senator from Arizona, by 12.5 percentage points and Romney, now the senator from Utah, by 6.7 percentage points.

And the margins Democrats won by in 2018 were significant but not overwhelming. Jacky Rosen, a first-term Democratic congresswoman, unseated Heller from the U.S. Senate by a 5-percentage point margin, while Gov. Steve Sisolak’s victory over then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt was narrower, a 4.1 percentage point victory.

To that end, the Biden campaign stresses that they are working hard for every vote. Nevada is, for instance, one of eight battleground states — along with Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where the campaign is focusing its television ads.

“We do not take voters for granted. We work hard for every vote, and our program reflects that," Cervantes said. “We look for opportunities to engage people, to bring new people to this process, to empower people with the information they need to vote, and, especially in terms of making voting more accessible, that’s the priority."

Getting out the vote

For Democrats, specifically, convincing people to vote for Biden is only half the battle. The other half is educating them on how to vote, whether they drop their ballot in the mail, return their ballot in a drop box or choose to vote in-person either early or on Election Day. 

During the June primary, about 484,000 people voted by mail, including 212,000 Democrats and 195,000 Republicans; Republicans dwarfed Democrats in terms of in-person turnout, with about 2,800 Republicans and 1,000 Democrats voting in person.

No one knows exactly just how comfortable voters will be going to a polling place come November. It’s also hard to know how comfortable they will feel voting by mail, with the U.S. Postal Service warning states that their voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots, though the secretary of state’s office in Nevada says it has “no concerns” about the Postal Service’s ability to support the election in the Silver State.

All the same, Democrats are honing in on voter education and voter protection efforts more than usual this cycle. Nevada Democrats on Friday announced a new voter education website aimed at answering questions about how to register to vote, vote by mail or vote in person. Wiltz also said they’ll be opening their voter protection hotline “earlier than ever” this cycle.

Unlike Republicans, Democrats also have a vast array of Democratic-aligned groups in Nevada to bolster this effort. On Friday, Win Justice Nevada, a super PAC formed as a collaboration between five progressive groups, announced a seven-figure program focused on turning out 250,000 voters, more than 80 percent of them voters of color.

SEIU Local 1107, one of the progressive groups behind Win Justice Nevada, is focusing its efforts on peer-to-peer texting to educate people about the vote-by-mail process. The union also plans to run an independent expenditure campaign specifically targeting 50,000 voters in the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community.

Though SEIU has no plans to do any door-to-door campaigning at this point, union members plan to participate in literature drops, meaning that people will leave campaign flyers at people’s doors but won’t knock on them to have a face-to-face conversation.

“We’re talking to a maybe smaller group of voters but we’re able to focus on that group of voters in a different way instead of again going wide. But there’s a deeper level of engagement where we can have conversations virtually or by text,” said Brian Shepherd, deputy executive director for SEIU Local 1107. “It’s a more focused approach.”

PLAN Action, another organization in the coalition, is also focusing on peer-to-peer texting and phone calls focusing on a group of 77,000 people including formerly incarcerated people, tribal communities and Latino voters. Laura Martin, executive director of PLAN, said that the only in-person events being planned right now are centered around building “excitement” around a public ballot drop off location.

“I think because people are home, they’re responding to text messages, they’re answering the phone and wanting to have conversations,” Martin said. “I don’t know how many people would be willing to open their door if they don’t know who’s on the other side.”

At the same time, other organizations are focusing on outreach to specific demographic groups, particularly to non-English speakers, to ensure that they are both registered and informed about how to vote by mail. Mi Familia Vota, for instance, has launched a voter registration phone line and will be kicking off a four-week, in-person voter registration drive outside of supermarkets and libraries next week, in addition to its digital campaign.

“There is definitely a gap with the older Latinos or Latinos that don’t have access to the internet. They’re not as tech savvy,” said Cecia Alvarado, Mi Familia Vota’s state director. “We have to take a step back and really walk people through this process and we’re finding those ways to educate them.”

Duy Nguyen, executive director of One APIA Nevada, is working to provide the same kind of information to Nevada’s growing AAPI community, which makes up about 9.5 percent of the state’s population. He said one of the organization’s big pushes will be to hand-distribute literature to doors but without the face-to-face contact.

“I think with the pandemic being the background of everything, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and when you look at misinformation, you have to look at it from a language barrier and an educational barrier lens,” Nguyen said. “There is just so much of a gap in understanding of what is fact and what is not.”

But for many of these organizations, the kind of door-to-door engagement they wouldn’t have thought twice about in previous cycles is now a far-off proposition. Leo Murrieta, Nevada director of Make the Road Action, an immigrant and workers’ rights organization, specifically cited the cost of equipping volunteers with masks and face shields in their decision to stay virtual.

Murrieta also noted that Make the Road’s volunteer base is largely people of color and essential workers, two groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“Small organizations like ours, we have to find ways to make a penny stretch really far,” Murrieta said. “We’re grassrooting it up, doing the best that we can.”

For now, the Culinary Union continues to be the only Democratic-aligned group operating in the field. Khan, the union’s spokeswoman, said that canvassers are equipped with face masks and that conversations at the door only happen from six feet away and only if the voter is also wearing a mask; canvassers are also required to use gloves if they collect anything.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Culinary Union has worked with top health experts to protect workers,” Khan said. “Based on our experience, we have developed a set of rules to ensure the field team can talk to voters safely.”

The next two months

With a little more than two months to go until Election Day, Republicans are feeling optimistic about their chances in a state where Democrats have proved a formidable foe over the last couple of elections.

“I would just say that I am very thankful that we’ve been on the ground so long, being able to train people, and we are far ahead of the game and where we wanted to be and our ability to contact voters,” Hughes said. “I am going to bet the other side wishes they were far ahead of where they currently are.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are optimistic about the number of different ways that voters have to participate in the election this year. However, they remain worried that doubt about the election process — including the Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail-in ballots on time — could depress turnout and that a narrow race could throw the results of the election into question.

"I think that it will be close,” Jones said. “I think that we need to make sure that people are educated on how to vote and that all the signatures are verified and that all the ballots are signed, and I think we need to win by more than a couple points or we also run the risk of Trump making vote by mail the hanging chad of 2020."

For Nevadans used to the spectacle of political candidates parading into town, the run-up to November this year will also likely be different: Both campaigns demurred when asked whether their candidates would return to Nevada before November or host Nevada-specific events.

But, in an era where campaigns have been forced to get creative, it’s just one more hurdle to overcome: Reminding Nevadans that they do, still, matter.

Update 8/30/20 at 8:05 a.m. to clarify that Jeremy Hughes, Pacific regional director for the Trump Victory campaign, said that while some people say the Democratic machine isn't working, he believes it still is, Republicans are just registering more voters.

Heller: GOP secretary of state should be ‘standing on soapbox’ opposing controversial election law changes

Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller said Nevada’s Republican secretary of state should be more vocal in opposing election law changes approved during a recent special legislative session allowing for expanded mail-in voting and ballot collection.

Heller, speaking with reporters during a Wednesday call arranged by the Trump presidential campaign, said he has spoken with Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske in recent days but remained concerned that she was not raising more of an alarm over the changes — including a process known as “ballot harvesting,” or ballot collection by non-family members — set for the 2020 election. With the new changes, Heller said Nevada has the “worst election laws now in the country.”

“We have a Secretary of State that is not making noise on this,” Heller, who is also a Republican, said. “She should be standing on that soapbox, really being as loud as she can, because there is nothing more important to our democracy than the safety and security of that ballot, and that’s not going to occur in this election cycle.”

Cegavske’s office did not return an immediate request for comment Wednesday morning. She opposed the election law changes during the recent special session and has filed emergency regulations that would allow her office to require anyone engaged in ballot collection practices during the election to register their personal information and any group affiliations they may have.

Additionally, former Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt’s political action committee began asking supporters to call Cegavske’s office and encourage her to publicly oppose the election law changes.

Heller, a former secretary of state who lost his 2018 re-election bid for the U.S. Senate, reiterated many of the same concerns with the recent legislatively-approved election law changes for the 2020 general election that state and national Republicans have voiced, including Trump. The president’s campaign and several Republican party groups have sued in federal court to halt implementation of the law.

Heller echoed concerns he previously raised during an interview earlier this month on Fox Business. He said mailing ballots to all active registered voters would invite double voting, given the mandated number of in-person polling places.

“You can’t do them all. No state does it all,” he said. “And because we do it all, I think we’re going to have some real problems, real concerns with people voting more than once.”

Cegavske’s office previously told the Associated Press that it had policies in place to prevent double voting, including requiring in-person voters to turn in their mail ballots or sign an affirmation that they have not already voted. Her office also said the state has an election management system to cross reference and catch someone attempting to vote twice.

Heller said that it required a lot of trust that the state and local election systems would be able to identify those cases, adding that he was still concerned that the state attorney general’s office, helmed by Democrat Aaron Ford, would not prosecute cases of duplicative voting — calling it a “precursor” to more people attempting to vote twice.

Ford’s office previously told the Associated Press earlier this month that it “takes allegations of voter fraud extremely seriously” and has not declined to prosecute any substantiated cases of voter fraud. Ford’s office said it brought charges last year against a person who attempted to vote in both Nevada and Arkansas in 2016.

Heller also said he was concerned that changes allowing ballot collection, often referred to as “ballot harvesting” by Republicans, would open the door to voter fraud and allow mass collection of ballots by Democratic-aligned groups and organizations. He said the changes turned a practice that was previously a felony into “good governance” overnight.

“If they don’t like how they voted, for some reason, somehow, these ballots disappear,” he said.

That assertion is contradicted by the actual language of the election law approved by the Legislature, which requires any person who collects a ballot on behalf of another person to turn it in within three days or, if collected closer to Election Day, by the date of the election or face a felony penalty.

Heller also recalled his personal experiences with both presidential candidate Joe Biden and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris during his time in the U.S. Senate. He said Biden met his family when he initially was sworn into the Senate, and that the then-vice president “flirted with his 80-year-old mother,” which he said was quite entertaining and that she was not offended.

He said that Biden also placed his hand on the stomach of his oldest daughter, nine months pregnant at the time, which she found “unusual” but was not offended.

Heller also said he was not impressed with the legislative track record of Sen. Harris, and that she refused to work with him during their overlapping time in office because “we were members of the wrong party.”

His remarks come as Harris is set to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday evening and Biden will formally accept his party’s nomination on Thursday. Trump will accept his party’s nomination at the Republican National Convention next week.