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.

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee announces run for governor as Republican, weeks after switching parties

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee launched his campaign for governor on Monday, framing himself as a candidate who will fight socialism and cancel culture in Nevada.

His announcement featured an 80-second video that showed Lee riding a bicycle through the desert and included images that accompany his narration about his life. In the short “ride,” Lee tells his story — from starting up a plumbing business to being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer to running and being elected mayor of North Las Vegas to recently switching from Democrat to Republican.

“I’m running for Governor of Nevada because I want to stop our state’s tightening embrace of socialism and make Nevada the best state in the nation to work, raise a family, and visit,” Lee said in a tweet announcing his run for governor

In a press release, Lee said that Gov. Steve Sisolak has “mismanaged” the economy of Nevada, while he as mayor has “turned around” North Las Vegas from an “economically broken city” to one with a better environment for investors and new businesses, and said he plans to apply that philosophy with the rest of the state.

“I’ve always made my own path. Socialism is a cancer, and if we don’t fight back … it’ll kill us,” Lee narrates in the video. “By the grace of God, I beat cancer, and together as Republicans, we’ll beat this, too.”

In April, Lee announced that he was switching parties because of the state Democratic Party’s recent leadership takeover by members of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

Lee was first elected as mayor of North Las Vegas in 2013. Prior to becoming mayor, he served as a Democratic member of the Legislature for 15 years – two terms in the Assembly from 1996 to 2000, and two terms in the state Senate from 2004 to 2012. Lee lost a state Senate re-election bid in 2012 in the primary to Democrat and current office-holder, Sen. Pat Spearman, whose campaign was supported by party members and advocates who believed Lee was too conservative.

In 2011, Lee said he was going to run for Congress but later dropped out, citing support for his colleague, Rep. Steven Horsford, as the reason.

Lee also said in the press release that he will stand up for Nevadans’ constitutional rights and focus on embracing small government, as well as defending free speech, protecting unborn life and supporting the right to bear arms.

Lee is the only announced candidate against Sisolak, who is seeking re-election in 2022. Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Rep. Mark Amodei and former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, all Republicans, have also said they are considering running for governor.

In 2020, Sisolak reported raising upwards of $2.4 million for his re-election bid.  

Nevada’s gubernatorial election candidate filing period is not until next March.

Lawyers argue before Nevada Supreme Court over close Clark County Commission race

The front of the Nevada Supreme Court Building

The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday morning in a months-long case over an exceptionally close Clark County Commission race, with lawyers arguing whether discrepancies in the voting process met the definition of an election being “prevented.”  

Las Vegas Councilman Stavros Anthony, a Republican, filed for a recount on Dec. 4, three days after the Clark County Commission certified the results of the District C election in spite of 139 ballot discrepancies in the district. Those discrepancies had caused the board to consider a special election, but then it reversed course. 

The recount resulted in 74 new ballots included in the count, which found that former Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, won by 15 votes, more than the 10-vote margin from the original results. Miller was ultimately sworn in as commissioner.

In Wednesday’s appeal hearing, Anthony’s attorney, Michael Wall, hewed to the same argument he made at a November lower court hearing, when his request to stop results certification was denied. Mark Hutchison, another Anthony lawyer, said that comments made by Clark County Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria showed that an effective election had been “prevented” in the district because of ballot discrepancies.

“As a result [of the discrepancies], I cannot certify that the vote is an accurate representation of the will of the voters in that district,” Gloria said in the affidavit. “In my professional opinion as an election official, it raises a reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.”

Hutchison said that these discrepancies entitle Anthony and District C voters to a new election according to NRS 293.465, which says that a new contest is appropriate if “an election is prevented in any precinct or district by reason of the loss or destruction of the ballots intended for that precinct, or any other cause.” 

Chief Justice James Hardesty, however, pointed to the district court’s decision to stick with Gloria’s affidavit, which did not indicate that the election was prevented. 

“What the registrar said, to the logic to the Commission, was he could not certify the election,”  Wall said. “Nothing in the statute says that the registrar has to use the words ‘the election was prevented.’ The registrar used words which indicate, in his opinion, that there is no winner, there is no election that can be certified.”

Ballot discrepancies can occur when voters cast multiple ballots, when check-in numbers at voting sites don’t match up with the number of ballots cast at that site or as a result of various mail-in ballot issues. Gloria previously said that these discrepancies occur in every election.

Bradley Schrager, representing Miller, argued that neither Gloria nor the District Court, in its findings and conclusions, saw this as a “293.465 election.” 

“There was no election prevented here. What there was was statistical anomalies,” he said. “Mr. Anthony has not placed any ballots in question. There is no allegation that any ballot was counted that shouldn't have been. There's no allegation that any ballot wasn't counted that ought to have been. Neither is there any indication of any incident that can be directly linked to harm or prejudice to Mr. Anthony.”

However, Schrager suggested another statute — NRS 293.410 — would fit the case better as it includes instances in which the election board “made errors sufficient to change the results of the election, as to any person who has been declared elect.” 

“That's the terrain that Mr. Anthony ought to have been fighting,” Schrager said. “293.465 is a voter access statute; it is not a candidate protection statute.” 

The Supreme Court did not immediately issue a ruling after arguments.

Commission candidate’s motion to stop vote certification in District C race denied

A judge in Clark County has denied Republican candidate Stavros Anthony’s motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the County Commission from reconsidering certifying results in the District C race.

The motion was filed on Wednesday after the commission released an agenda that included a motion to reconsider requested by Commissioner Tick Segerblom allowing board members to vote on canvassing and certifying results for the race. The commission chose not to certify those results at its initial canvassing meeting because the 139 ballot discrepancies noted in the region outnumbered the 10-vote margin of victory held by Las Vegas City Councilman Anthony’s Democratic opponent Ross Miller, a former secretary of state.

Miller filed a suit against the county after the decision not to certify, which he said exceeded the board’s “authority under law.” Anthony is an intervening plaintiff in the case. 

The candidate’s motion for preliminary injunction referenced a stipulation agreed to by the county that the board would not proceed with a special election until the court made a decision. Anthony said that preventing the county from reversing its certification decision would also violate that stipulation which was the motion said was intended to “preserve the status quo.”

Anthony’s attorney, former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, argued at Monday’s hearing that comments made by Registrar of Voters Joe Gloria showed that an effective election had been “prevented” in the district because of ballot discrepancies.

“As a result [of the discrepancies], I cannot certify that the vote is an accurate representation of the will of the voters in that district,” Gloria said in the affidavit. “In my professional opinion as an election official, it raises a reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.”

Hutchinson said that these discrepancies entitle Anthony and District C voters to a new election according to NRS 293.465 which says that a new election is appropriate if “an election is prevented in any precinct or district by reason of the loss or destruction of the ballots intended for that precinct, or any other cause.”

However, Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez did not agree that ballot discrepancies qualified as “cause” under the statute.

Ballot discrepancies can occur when voters cast multiple ballots, when check-in numbers at voting sites don’t match up with the number of ballots cast at that site or as a result of various mail-in ballot issues. Gloria previously said that these discrepancies occur in every election.

Without an injunction from the court, the Clark County Commission will meet on Tuesday to canvass results in the District C race and discuss certification.

Even amid Trump’s Nevada loss, PAC led by former Lt. Gov. Hutchison touts success for down-ballot Republicans

Though President Donald Trump fell short of victory in Nevada’s 2020 election, state Republicans still saw quite the silver lining in election results — the first major gains in legislative races since the 2014 midterm elections.

Once the election dust had settled, Republicans had gained three Assembly seats and a state Senate seat previously held by Democrats, dragging the party out of a super-minority in the state Assembly and blocking a two-thirds majority in the state Senate.

Though election results are being contested (including a request for a special election in one close state Senate race), a substantial amount of credit for Republican success in down-ballot races is being attributed to a well funded political action committee called “Stronger Nevada PAC.”

The group, headed by former Lieutenant Governor Mark Hutchison, raised and spent nearly $2 million through the course of the campaign season, focusing on television, digital and mail advertising spending in a state Supreme Court race and a handful of key swing Assembly and state Senate races.

Though the group was not successful in all of its targeted races, Hutchison said in an interview that he was pleased with the down-ballot results of the election, saying it has justified his belief that Nevada was still very much a swing state despite recent strings of victories by Democrats.

“Nevada is much more of a purple state (and) still is, I think now as a result of this election,” he said. “A lot of people were talking about it becoming a blue state, and really having sort of left the ‘purple stage.’ I really feel like this election is putting the data back into what we’ve known for years, a purple state. Nevadans care about candidates and they care about policies, and they're going to vote for those kinds of policies, not necessarily straight party line.”

The PAC made some limited television ad buys, but largely focused on digital and mail advertising in down ballot races, including Doug Herdon’s state Supreme Court race against attorney Ozzie Fumo, three state Senate races (Districts 5, 6 and 15) and four Assembly races (Districts 4, 29, 31 and 37). It reported spending more than $130,000 on Facebook ads, according to the social media company’s repository of advertisements on its platform — more than either Steve Sisolak or Adam Laxalt spent on the platform during their respective runs for governor in 2018. 

Creation and use of a political action committee to help boost legislative Republicans isn’t a new trend; former Gov. Brian Sandoval did it in 2014 and 2016 through the “Nevada Jobs Coalition,” a similar independent expenditure-focused committee that ran advertisements boosting Republican candidates.

But the 2020 effort was notable both in the size and source of the contributions (more than half of the PACs contributions came from 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit groups, which aren’t required to disclose donors) but also in leadership structure; Hutchison left office in 2018, but worked with several currently-elected Republicans including state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer and Assembly members Jill Tolles and Tom Roberts.

In an interview, Kieckhefer called the PAC and leadership arrangement a “good partnership,” and said it had proved an effective counter to Democratic advertising against Republican candidates. He said the PAC’s success bodes well for the upcoming 2022 midterms, and that some of the financial relief it offered was a product of businesses pushing back against the prospect of Democratic supermajority control of the two legislative chambers.

“This was an instance where businesses that were feeling under attack by their state government decided to step up and take a stand,” he said. “And part of that was investing in the effort to gain legislative seats for Republicans. And we did that. So, this was a statement, and hopefully people are paying attention.”

As for Hutchison, his continued political involvement while out of office continues to fuel speculation about a potential future candidacy — Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto are both up for re-election in 2022. Hutchison said he plans to “think about my political future later,” but hinted that Republicans need to expand beyond the normal base to see success in the upcoming midterms.

“Republican candidates, particularly for statewide office, need to have as big a tent as possible,” he said. “We need to be a party that is inviting and a party that is attractive to as many voters as possible. We need to be attractive to our base, we need to be attractive to moderate voters, we need to be attractive to crossover voters. Just given the registration advantage in favor of Democrats, there has to be a focus on all three of those areas.”

PAC Funding

According to campaign finance reports, the Stronger Nevada PAC raised more than $1.8 million cumulatively through the first nine months of the calendar year, while spending more than $1 million over that same time period. Actual spending and contribution levels are likely to be higher, given that currently-reported fundraising totals don’t include the final month of campaigning.

Much of the group’s funding is obscured through the use of 501(c)4 nonprofit advocacy and social welfare organizations — which are not required to reveal their donors — for contributions. Hutchison helped fund the PAC’s initial wave of spending in the spring through a nonprofit called “Nevada Foundation for Judicial Engagement,” which contributed about $150,000 to the PAC in April.

That nonprofit was created in February of 2019 and is registered to Hutchison’s private-practice law office. It has reported no other contributions to Nevada-level or federal candidates since it was created.

But the group’s largest contributions have come from a similar 501(c)4 nonprofit organization called American Exceptionalism Institute Inc., which contributed a sizable $985,000 to the PAC in October and September — more than half of its listed contributions. The group has few public footprints; it lists an Alexandria, Virginia P.O. Box as its mailing address, and its listed chairman is an Ohio conservative activist named Chris Macisco.

According to government ethics group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group was founded by an Ohio lawyer named James G. Ryan who is also involved in other “dark money” 501(c)4 nonprofits that engage in heavy political spending.

Outside of a publicized television ad campaign urging Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to support the nomination of CIA Director Gina Haspel in 2018, the nonprofit has not attracted much interest or public attention. More recently, it contributed $150,000 to a Super PAC supporting Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler in July 2020.

Other major donors to the Stronger Nevada PAC include the Republican State Leadership Committee, which contributed $200,000, and $250,000 from Nevada Gold Mines, the joint partnership between mining conglomerates Barrick and Newmont. The state’s mining industry soured on legislative Democrats after the 2020 summer session, where lawmakers pushed through three proposed constitutional amendments that would remove the cap on net proceeds of minerals.

Special election plans on hold in Clark County Commission race decided by 10 votes

Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez heard from both parties involved in Democrat Ross Miller’s lawsuit against Clark County on Friday to determine what is needed as evidence in the case and to set a date for the next hearing. 

Miller is suing the county after the Clark County Commission decided not to certify the results of the commission District C election which Miller won by 10 votes. The decision came after Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria identified 139 discrepancies in ballots cast in the district, which county leaders said was a margin that could cast doubt on the ultimate result.

During the short conference on Friday, Gonzalez granted a request by Miller’s attorney Dominic Gentile to include a deposition of Gloria of less than three hours as evidence in the hearing. Additionally, county counsel Mary-Anne Miller agreed to a stipulation by Gentile that the Clark County Commission will not take any action to hold the special election until after the suit is settled.

Additionally, Republican former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, attorney for Ross Miller’s Republican opponent Stavros Anthony, intervened in the case. Although Gentile objected to Hutchison’s intervention, Gonzalez overruled his objection and allowed Hutchison to intervene and represent Anthony’s interests in the suit.

A date was not set for the next hearing, but all parties were directed to meet independently to determine a date and report that date back to Gonzalez the week of Nov. 30.

Election Preview: State Senate races will determine Democrats’ chances at reaching a super-majority

All it takes is one.

After the 2018 election, Democrats controlled 13 of 21 seats in the state Senate — enough for a clear majority, but one short of a supermajority that could give the party the power to raise taxes and take other major procedural action without a Republican in support. The arrangement was brought into laser-sharp focus through Democrats’ multiple failed attempts to raise mining taxes during the summer special session because they failed to notch a Republican vote.

Now, with less than a month before Election Day, state Senate Democrats are aiming to flip two Republican-held districts while defending two suburban Las Vegas districts they won narrowly in the 2016 election.

It’s unlikely Republicans will gain a majority in the Senate without a major wave that gives them victory over essentially all seats in play and a fifth seat that’s considered generally out of reach. Democrats enjoy a 13-8 advantage in the Senate, and Republicans are aiming to both pick up seats and defend potentially vulnerable districts to ensure that Democrats don’t obtain a supermajority.

As members of the 21-seat state Senate serve four-year terms, only 11 districts are up for re-election in 2020 — and only four are considered to be up for grabs, given relative closeness in voter registration totals. 

Democrats are playing defense in two suburban Las Vegas Senate districts, with Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro running against Republican attorney April Becker in District 6, and political newcomer Kristee Watson attempting to keep control of Senate District 5 in a race against Republican charter school leader Carrie Buck (Democratic former Sen. Joyce Woodhouse is termed out of office).

On the flip side, Republicans are fending off challenges to well-funded incumbents Heidi Gansert in Reno (running against Wendy Jauregui-Jackins) and Scott Hammond (running against Liz Becker) in northwest Las Vegas.

Other Senate candidates are facing a much easier walk to re-election — incumbent Democrats Chris Brooks and Pat Spearman didn’t attract a single challenger, while incumbent Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea and Democratic candidate Dina Neal are both running in districts with overwhelmingly favorable voter registration advantages. Former Democratic state party head Roberta Lange overcame robust challenges from sitting lawmakers in the primary election for termed-out Sen. David Parks’ seat, but she does not have a general election opponent.

Some Republican consultants have identified Senate District 11 — where appointed Sen. Dallas Harris is running for the first time against Republican Joshua Dowden — as a potential pickup opportunity in a wave election. However, registered Democrats currently outnumber registered Republicans by a nearly 18-percentage-point margin in the district, making it unlikely that control of the district will flip.

But Republican candidates are for the most part entering the final period before the election with a cash advantage. All four Republicans in swing districts — Gansert, Hammond, Becker and Buck — outraised their opponents over the most recent fundraising quarter, which ran from July to the end of September.

“We've really been focused not only on protecting our incumbents, Sen. Gansert and Sen. Hammond, but really making sure that Carrie Buck and April Becker had a strong team behind them and the resources that needed to compete knowing how close these races have been historically,” said Greg Bailor, director of the Senate Republican Caucus.

The most recent numbers also mean that, save for Cannizzaro, Republicans have cumulatively outraised Democratic candidates since the start of 2019 in three of the four competitive districts. They’re also receiving a boost from several outside groups, including a PAC created by the Las Vegas Police Protective Association that’s raised half a million dollars, and former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison-led PAC (Stronger Nevada PAC) that has raised more than $1.8 million this year and placed substantial television and digital ads attacking Democratic candidates.

But fundraising totals and voter registration data are just some of the factors that determine electoral success, not infallible predictors.

Nevada State Senate Democrats Executive Director Cheryl Bruce said early returns from the first week of mail voting had been a positive indicator, but that candidates and the party would continue pushing hard through the state’s early vote period and Election Day. 

“In races like these that we're playing in, it is always going to be tight, it's always going to be close,” she said. “And so we cannot take anything for granted, and we're not going to. We have reasons to be optimistic, but we're not going to let our foot off the gas.”

While some campaigns got a slower start to door-knocking and canvassing because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruce said that the party recently started using a “hybrid” canvassing system, where volunteers who are comfortable drop campaign literature at doors or have conversations with voters at a six-foot, socially distanced space.

And while the presidential race has sucked up much of the political oxygen, the lack of a statewide race on the ballot (such as governor or U.S. Senate) means that legislative candidates in two races — Cannizzaro and Becker, and Gansert and Jauregui-Jackins — have purchased television advertisements.

No legislative candidates bought television ad time in 2018, and only one — former Sen. Joyce Woodhouse — did so in 2016. Though there are some drawbacks — television ads can’t be geolocated to an individual district and thus likely reach a large number of voters who can’t vote for the candidate — Bruce said that the lack of other major races or a big-money ballot question gave candidates “a little bit more of an opening, both in terms of maximizing our dollars and also cutting through some noise on TV.”

Republicans hope to pin their opponents to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, whose approval ratings have dropped by double digits as economic troubles have carried on, unemployment remains sky high and critics have scrutinized his response to the pandemic. If they block Democrats from holding a two-thirds majority, Republicans can continue to be a relevant part of the policy conversation.

“We're also 200 days plus now into the COVID shutdown and the economic shutdown and seeing the governor continue to struggle to communicate,” Bailor said. “If there is a path to get the Senate back in Republican control, that puts at least a check back on the system of state government. And that is an opportunity to maybe have a more bipartisan conversation when we go to Carson City in 2021.”

Bruce said that even with the governor’s lower approval ratings, Democratic candidates were not shying away from Sisolak’s support or endorsement. She said if anything, voters were more apt to make decisions on down-ballot races based on their reaction to President Trump.

“People are really responding well to the steps and the actions that he's taken to help us weather the storm of the pandemic, both economically and health and safety-wise,” she said. “There is definitely a very strong sense of anger towards the Trump administration right now, and really DC politics in general, that I think is going to probably play a factor in these races.”

As for Republicans? 

“Nobody's shying away from the party ticket,” Bailor said. “But with our messaging, we're not talking about national issues. We're talking about local issues at the state level.” 

Below, The Nevada Independent explores those four Senate races this year. Click here to read more about the Assembly races and check out our election page for more information overall on the 2020 election.

Senate District 5 

Republican former charter school principal Carrie Buck is trying for the third time to win a seat in the swingy Henderson-area district held by termed-out Democrat Joyce Woodhouse. Buck lost to Woodhouse by less than one percentage point in 2016 and proffered herself as a potential replacement in an unsuccessful attempt to recall Woodhouse in 2017.

Currently the head of Pinecrest Foundation, which supports the now eight-school Pinecrest Academy charter school network, Buck raised $211,066 in the latest quarter and spent $60,562, leaving her with $246,023 heading into the final month of her campaign. Her fundraising eclipses that of Democrat Kristee Watson, who reported raising $115,055 and spending $161,266, leaving her with $123,686 to spend in the home stretch.

Buck said her priority bills would require students to read at grade level by fifth grade, and she wants to develop the workforce by identifying available jobs and working backwards to what can prepare middle and high schoolers for those openings. 

Watson is the program facilitator for literacy nonprofit Spread the Word Nevada. She ran for an Assembly seat in 2018, but lost to Republican Melissa Hardy by about nine percentage points.

Libertarian and retired electrical engineer Tim Hagan is also competing in the race and reported $6,000 in contributions last quarter, all from an in-kind donation for video production. All three candidates ran unopposed in their June primaries. 

Democrats hold a roughly 6 percent voter registration advantage in the district over Republicans as of the most recent registration data available, with 37.7 percent registered as Democrats, 31.8 percent registered Republicans and 24 percent nonpartisan. Senate District 5 includes portions of Henderson and southeastern Las Vegas. 

At the same time in 2016, Democrats represented about 38.9 percent of registered voters compared to roughly 34 percent of Republicans, or about a 5 point difference in voter registration advantage (with about 20.1 percent of voters registered as nonpartisan). 

Senate District 6 - Cannizzaro/Becker

Prosecutor and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro is in a fierce contest to keep her swingy Summerlin-area seat this cycle. She faces Republican real estate attorney April Becker in a race that is a referendum on one of the most powerful decision makers in the Legislature and therefore the direction of the body as a whole, including bills passed on narrow margins and late-night hearings on major policy.

“There's plenty to campaign on right now, just over the behavior of the Senate majority, the politics that were played,” Bailor said. “It's unnecessary, especially when we are dealing with such a large economic burden and such a health care crisis.”

Cannizzaro raised $193,131 in the latest quarter and spent $302,972, with a massive war chest of $581,936 cash on hand heading into the final month of the campaign. Becker topped her fundraising haul in the latest quarter, bringing in $248,668, but spent $217,527 and has less cash on hand — $181,011 — heading into the last month of the campaign.

Cannizzaro’s television campaign focuses largely on health care — touting votes for protecting people with pre-existing conditions and ending surprise hospital billing — while accusing Becker of being supported by politicians who support repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Bruce said that Cannizzaro’s campaign was focused largely on the twin points of health care and education, while also addressing the state’s pandemic response and recovery. She said many of the complaints about the rushed legislative process during the special sessions came from lobbyists or other legislative watchers and not from normal citizens.

“It's kind of a disconnect between what the general lobby corp and Carson City insiders would say, versus what every day voter and citizen in Nevada would say about that,” she said.

A centerpiece of Becker’s campaign has been riding around her district in a bright blue ice cream truck meeting voters. Her ads accuse Cannizzaro of voting to raise her own pay (through support of annual legislative sessions) and promises that she’ll donate her legislative salary to teachers.

Becker also criticized moves to scale back Opportunity Scholarships, which give businesses tax credits for donations to scholarships that families can use to attend private schools, and argues that “we need to stiffen penalties on dangerous felons.”

Democrats hold about an 8 point voter registration advantage in this district over Republicans, with the most recent data showing the district’s more than 84,000 voters to have 39.7 percent registered Democrats, 31.8 percent registered Republicans, and 22.4 percent registered nonpartisan.

That’s a slightly smaller percentage advantage than the 8.5 percent registration advantage Democrats enjoyed in 2016, which saw registration made up of 40.9 percent registered Democrats, 32.4 percent registered Republicans and 19.2 percent registered non-partisan. 

In 2016, Cannizzaro narrowly defeated former Republican Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman by slightly more than 1,000 votes out of more than 56,000 cast.

Democrats upped their total registered voter advantage by about 2,000 over the four-year period (4,691 advantage in 2016 and 6,684 in 2020), though the total number of registered voters in the district also jumped by more than 14,000 over the same four-year period.

Senate District 15 

Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert is seeking re-election to her Reno-area district. She raised $201,665 in the last quarter and spent $191,223, leaving her with $282,068 on the eve of the election.

Gansert is the executive director of external relations at the University of Nevada, Reno, and served as chief of staff to former Gov. Brian Sandoval. 

“She grew up in that community, she's served multiple sessions in assembly, and now the Senate,” Bailor said. “People know Heidi. And that's also something that's gonna help — she's (part of the) fabric of that community.”

Bruce said there was a “big difference” in the dynamics of Gansert’s 2020 race after two terms in the Legislature,  as opposed to her initial 2016 state Senate bid, where she defeated attorney Devon Reese by an 11-point margin.

“She can't necessarily paint herself as this moderate this time when she has a voting record to answer for,” she said.

Democrats have endorsed and rallied around Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, a county appraiser and the sister of Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui. Jauregui-Jackins reported raising more than $126,000 over the last three months, spending just under $100,000 and keeping roughly $133,000 in cash on hand. 

Similar to Cannizzaro, Jauregui-Jackins’s television ad focuses largely on health care issues and claims Gansert took campaign dollars from drug and insurance companies and voted against a resolution urging Congress to not repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Gansert has responded directly to that ad, releasing a response touting her votes for drug transparency legislation, birth control access legislation and a vote in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment.

One possible sign of concern for Gansert comes in voter registration trends; Democrats now enjoy a narrow 841-person voter registration lead over Republicans in the district, a flip from the same point in 2016 when Republicans held a 1,641-person advantage in registered voters.

Senate District 18 

Republican incumbent Scott Hammond is seeking to maintain a seat he’s held since 2012 representing a Republican-leaning, northwestern portion of Las Vegas. He raised $131,762 and spent $65,050 last quarter, holding $90,095 heading into the final leg of the race.

A former teacher who now works as Director of Community Outreach for the Nevada Contractors Association, Hammond’s campaign has involved convening weekly telephone town halls on topics relating to the pandemic.

He will compete against Democratic challenger Liz Becker in November. She is a former teacher and environmental scientist who previously worked with Southern Nevada Water Authority who lists environmental issues and gun violence prevention among her top campaign priorities.  

Becker’s funding falls far short of Hammond’s, though — she raised $24,161, or less than a fifth of what Hammond did in the most recent quarter.

Becker spent $16,493 and had $41,650 cash on hand with a month left to go in the race.

Democrats account for 33.7 percent of active registered voters in the district, while Republicans have 37.5 percent.

Election Preview: Reno Council’s newest member Devon Reese and perennial candidate Eddie Lorton face off for at-large seat

As Election Day approaches, candidates in four nonpartisan Reno City Council races are squaring off in an election that will shape how the city navigates the devastation the pandemic has brought on local revenue, a housing crunch spurred by a burgeoning population, and calls for racial justice reform amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

Well-established incumbents and challengers for three ward positions and one at-large position are reaching out to residents by every means possible to earn votes ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. Though many of the campaigns are separated by large funding gaps favoring the incumbents, challengers are hoping to sway voters with bold policies and fresh perspectives.

In three of the races, incumbents are backed by significant donations from developers. Opponents question the conflict of interest the donations might present given that the council decides the fate of various developers’ projects, but incumbents remain steadfast in their position that they serve the citizens of Reno, not other interests.

Three of the seven council seats, including the mayor who votes on the council but does not represent a specific geographic district, are not up for re-election in the 2020 cycle. Council seats are nonpartisan and council members receive salaries of about $80,000 along with benefits each year.

The Nevada Independent is releasing two Reno City Council election previews Thursday and Friday giving an overview of the two candidates, their campaign funding standings along with each candidate’s platform and stances.

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Challenging the city’s newest councilman, Devon Reese, is self-funded perennial candidate Eddie Lorton.

The at-large council position represents residents of the entire city, but in 2024, the city will redraw wards, adding a sixth geographically distinct ward and eliminating the at-large position in the process. Lorton is looking to replace Reese on the council for the next four years.

Reese is a civil litigation attorney at Hutchison and Steffen, a firm founded by former Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison. The City Council unanimously selected Reese for the at-large council position out of 144 applicants last year. Reese also serves as the council’s vice mayor.

Previously, Reese ran as a Democrat for state Senate in a tight race in 2016. He said he is running for the at-large position because it is geared toward finding opportunities to collaborate and building unity on the council. He added that it also gives him the chance to help the city where he grew up.

“I always view problems as opportunities to engage our community in finding solutions,” Reese said in a recent interview with The Nevada Independent. “As elected officials, we listen, we need to understand where people are coming from, that we gather a diverse set of ideas and solutions because oftentimes it’s in that listening phase and hearing what people’s issues are that we’re able to identify solutions that maybe weren’t on our radar.”

Reese describes himself as a bridge-builder and says he wants to continue the council’s current trajectory, pushing it further by prioritizing housing, support for housing-insecure populations and help for businesses and working families navigating through the pandemic and recovery. He said another one of his goals is to work with the county and other entities to address problems on a region-wide basis.

Such an approach to addressing homelessness is necessary because many struggles facing the community extend beyond the city’s border, Reese added. He noted that working with unsheltered communities too often falls on the shoulders of law enforcement when more social workers and community advocates should be involved and the county has more funding and resources that could be devoted to that work.

Reese said he recognizes the historical discrimination against Black communities, but does not support removing more funding from the police department. He noted that police officers deserve respect and pointed out that police have lost funding in the last 25 years because of  budget cuts due to a structural problem with property taxes. 

Reese explained that because of the state’s taxation formula, property tax revenue is decreasing while costs for the city are increasing. To change the property tax structure, Reese said the Legislature would need to propose reforms and put it to voters. He added that it would be difficult to increase sales taxes because the city has tapped out that source so many times. 

The Reese-Lorton campaign is perhaps the most vitriolic, as Lorton has consistently attacked Reese in social media posts, the most notable being a video featuring Reese’s brother, Sean Reese, airing family drama and accusing Reese of evicting him after he stopped making rental payments.

Reese responded to the video in a post online, calling it a “tasteless attack video” that exploited his brother who has struggled with mental health issues and substance abuse. He asserted that the video made false claims and that while he wanted to set the record straight, he did not want to make his family collateral damage in a political back-and-forth.

“While I picked a life in the public eye, [my family] did not. Although he has chosen to take part in this sick, baseless smear, I still believe that Sean’s personal struggles do not deserve to be aired further,” Reese wrote.

In an interview with The Nevada Independent, Reese declined to comment further on the attack, citing an adage that his parents taught him: “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.”

Donations to Reese’s campaign for the second quarter totaled about $72,400, with one in-kind donation of $1,500 listed as a billboard from Lamar Companies. The largest contributions came in the form of three $10,000 donations from developers in Northern California.

The $10,000 donations, the maximum amount a candidate can receive from a single donor,  came from Lyon Management Group, NPLC BV Investment Company LLC and NPC Investor LLC. NPLC BV Investment shares the same address as Newport Pacific Land Company, the developer in the controversial Daybreak project and a major donor to council members Neoma Jardon and Oscar Delgado’s campaigns.

In response to a question about whether the contributions present undue interest, Reese said campaign finance reform is needed, but right now candidates running for office don’t have much of a choice in terms of sources of funding, and the alternative is that only wealthy people would run.

He also said that he has received broad bipartisan support and funding from individuals, labor unions, businesses and other groups, and he said that the contributions do not influence his decisions and are disclosed and available to the public.

Reese spent around $60,400 during the second quarter, mainly on consultants, advertising, and a $250 donation to the Karma Box project, a community initiative that provides non-perishable food, first aid supplies and toiletries to vulnerable populations. The candidate has a healthy cash on hand balance of more than $76,000.

Lorton has more cash on hand, but that is almost entirely from $100,000 he loaned himself in February.

In the second quarter, Lorton received $15,740 from donations and spent about $11,336 on advertising and consultants. He had a remaining balance of $98,900.

The highest donation Lorton’s campaign received in the second quarter was $5,000 from Don Roger Norman, a Reno real estate magnet and a partner behind the massive Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center that houses the Tesla Gigafactory.

When Lorton, the owner of a carpet cleaning business and investor in real estate, unsuccessfully campaigned against Hillary Schieve for mayor in 2014 and 2018, he ran on a platform advocating that the city sell surplus property and move the homeless shelter out of the downtown area.

Lorton ran for the mayoral seat after he filed a lawsuit in 2013 contending that council members could not run for mayor once they had served a full 12-year term because the mayor was a member of council.

The Supreme Court supported Lorton’s argument, a decision that prevented Jessica Sferrazza, a former councilwoman, from running.

Sferrazza’s departure from the race subsequently made way for Schieve’s candidacy. Schieve held the council’s at-large seat from 2012 to 2014.

Lorton declined an interview for this article, claiming that “the Independent is a bias[ed] news source … incapable of fair unbias[ed] journalism,” because Jon Ralston, the editor, is Sferrazza’s ex-husband.

On Lorton’s website, he has an agenda called the “Reno 2022 Plan,” with almost identical campaign goals and ideas as a “Reno 2022” plan he presented in 2018.

He seems to be reusing other campaign materials, too, listing the position he is running for on his campaign finance report in the first quarter as “Mayor, Reno” and hyperlinking a 2018 Gold Star Families Endorsement on his website — until he removed the link sometime after an op-ed criticizing the candidate and pointing out the link was posted on This is Reno in May. The endorsement is still listed on his website, but the link is no longer there.

Lorton says that homelessness in Reno is a problem the county should take responsibility for, and in a campaign announcement in February said that he also wants to focus on pedestrian safety.

“It is no secret that I have unsuccessfully thrown my hat in this ring before. But it’s not how many times you get knocked down that matters, it’s how many times you get back up,” Lorton wrote in the announcement. “It is my hope that I will be able to continue helping citizens understand matters that come before the Council, while also starting a new chapter in helping community members engage directly and more regularly with our elected leaders.”

Legislative candidates raised $1.8 million over last three months, campaign finance reports show

The Nevada Legislature Building

It’s been more than a month since races were called in Nevada’s June primary election, but campaign finance reports showing who helped legislative candidates win their contests have only just been published.

Under a state law approved in 2019 and taking effect this election cycle, local and state candidates for elected office are required to file reports detailing their contributions and political spending every three months, similar to requirements for federal candidates. 

But unlike federal candidates, who are required to disclose their donors and political spending ahead of primary and general elections, no such requirement was made in Nevada law for statewide or legislative candidates — leaving voters and the public in the dark on the last two months of fundraising before the state’s primary election.

Reports were required to be submitted to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday, July 15, and cover the period between April 1 and June 30.

In total, legislative candidates reported raising more than $1.8 million and spending $1.9 million during that three-month reporting period. Candidates ended the period with a combined $4.7 million in the bank, led by Democratic legislative leaders Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro ($692,000) and Speaker Jason Frierson ($442,900).

Although only one incumbent legislative candidate lost re-election in the primary (Republican Chris Edwards), the fundraising reports shine a light into the breadth and scope of political fundraising that occurred ahead of some of the state’s most hard-fought primary contents.

Campaign finance reports also provide an inside look into what races each political party thinks will be the most competitive come November, as well as a sense of how much influence certain groups, businesses or other politically powerful interests may have come the 2021 legislative session.

Democrats currently control 29 of 42 seats in the Assembly and 13 of 21 seats in the Senate. A seat flipped in the Senate would give the party a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses.

Fundraising totals reported on Wednesday are significant for another reason: it marks the last time for several weeks that lawmakers will be able to fundraise because of blackout rules around the ongoing special legislative session. State law prohibits any legislator from collecting campaign contributions during a special session and for at least 15 days afterwards — meaning many incumbents in tough races will be at a temporary disadvantage while their opponents can continue fundraising.

Here’s a look at how the fundraising battle played out in some of the state's top legislative primaries, and the state of play in competitive districts a few months before the November general election.

COMPETITIVE PRIMARIES

Senate District 7 

Former Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange claimed a narrow victory of 132 votes over Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel and, with no general election opponents, will take the seat, which covers parts of eastern Las Vegas and Henderson.

Lange, who was endorsed by the Nevada State Democratic Caucus, trailed far behind Spiegel in spending and fundraising in the first quarter but dominated in both areas in the second quarter, spending $136,000 and raising $66,000, $5,000 of which came from an in-kind donation of a poll from Nevada State Democrats. 

Her long list of donors included several Democratic senators, including $5,000 each from Cannizzaro's campaign and PACs connected to Mo Denis, Yvanna Cancela and Joyce Woodhouse. Other top donors included $5,000 from the Nevada Hispanic Leadership Fund and $5,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, a PAC formed to combat the influence of big business and the insurance industry in politics.

The majority of her spending went to advertising. She also spent more than $18,000 on polling and gave $2,500 to Cannizzaro's campaign.

Lange ended the second quarter with just $2,600 in cash on hand, more than $139,000 less than Spiegel's war chest, and will join the Legislature in 2021. 

Assembly District 2

In a Republican primary saturated with candidates, former Nevada REALTORS president Heidi Kasama emerged victorious, with 47.9 percent of the vote. To represent the Southern Nevada district, Kasama will go toe-to-toe with Democrat Radhika “RPK” Kunnel, a law school student and former cancer biology professor.

During the three-month fundraising period in the second quarter, Kasama reported raising $16,385 and spending about $57,000 on expenses related to advertising, consultants and other costs. She ended the second quarter with about $63,600 in cash-on-hand, largely supported by $56,000 she gave her campaign in the first quarter.

Kasama’s top contributions included $3,000 from Republican Assemblyman Glen Leavitt’s campaign fund, $2,500 from Republican Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’s campaign, $1,000 from Assemblyman Tom Roberts’ campaign and $1,000 from the Business Leaders for Ethical Government PAC, which also contributed to Sen. Julia Ratti in 2018.

Kunnel’s contribution totals for the second quarter are much lower than the donations Kasama received. During the three-month donation period, Kunnel received $5,518 in contributions, $2,000 of which are demarcated as in-kind donations. She also received a $900 donation from former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign fund.

The 2 percentage point Republican voter registration advantage in the district indicates Kasama could have the advantage.

Assembly District 4

Democratic Assemblywoman Connie Munk ran unopposed in the primary and is set to face former GOP Assemblyman Richard McArthur in the northwest Las Vegas Valley Assembly district’s general election. 

Munk, who eked out a narrow victory against McArthur in 2018 with a 120-vote margin out of nearly 30,000 votes cast, reported raising $18,154 during the second quarter, with about $280 in in-kind donations. 

Her largest contribution was $3,000 from the Citizens for Justice PAC (trial lawyers). She reported spending about $2,800 on mostly advertising and some office expenses, ending the second quarter with more than $87,000 cash on hand.

Fundraising for McArthur lagged behind Munk for the first two quarters. McArthur reported $700 in contributions during the second quarter, spending roughly $12,500 on expenses related to advertising and ending the second quarter with about $15,500 cash on hand.

McArthur defeated Donnie Gibson, the owner of a construction and equipment rental company, in the primary by securing 51.2 percent of votes to Gibson’s 48.9. That comes in spite of Gibson outspending him by more than $43,000 in the first quarter and almost $83,000 in the second quarter.

McArthur served three non-consecutive terms in the Assembly, including two terms between 2008 and 2012 and one term from 2016 to 2018. In a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by less than 1 percentage point, the race between Munk and McArthur could be close.

Assembly District 19

Republican Chris Edwards was the only lawmaker to lose in a primary election this cycle, after being outraised in the most recent fundraising quarter by opponent and Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black.

Black, who easily defeated Edwards in the primary election with 61 percent of the vote, reported raising more than $67,700 during the three-month fundraising period, including $9,000 in personal loans, $5,000 in in-kind contributions from a graphics company and nearly $6,000 in contributions under $100. She reported spending roughly $30,700, including repayment of loans, and ended the period with about $27,900 in cash on hand.

Her top donors included several family members, the holding company of Planet 13 marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, the Nevada REALTORS PAC and a PAC run by Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore, a former legislative colleague of Edwards who once famously told him to “sit your ass down” on the Assembly floor.

Edwards reported raising $17,800, including sizable sums from Assembly Republicans Robin Titus, Al Kramer, Glen Leavitt and a PAC affiliated with Tom Roberts. He reported spending just over $28,300 and ended the period with $7,100 in cash on hand.

As no Democrats or other candidates filed to run in the race, Black will automatically be elected to the Legislature at the general election.

TOP 2020 GENERAL ELECTION RACES

Assembly District 29

Democratic incumbent Lesley Cohen will face Steven DeLisle, a dentist with several offices in Southern Nevada, in November. Cohen represented the Henderson Assembly district, a swing district, from 2012 to 2014 and lost her re-election bid to Stephen Silberkraus before reclaiming the seat in 2016.

Cohen leads DeLisle in fundraising and cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. Her $17,500 raised was boosted with a $5,000 contribution from Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton's campaign and donations from unions, including $1,500 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and several PACS connected to firefighters in Nevada.

After spending $1,900 mostly on office expenses, she ended the period with more than $83,000 in available cash.

DeLisle, who took 63 percent of the vote in his Republican primary, raised $11,300 this period. His biggest donor was the conservative Keystone Corporation PAC with a $5,000 donation. He also received $1,000 from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and $500 from Republican Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, who represents part of Washoe County and several rural counties. 

DeLisle spent nearly $18,000 more than Cohen in the second quarter on a mix of advertising, consultants and office expenses. He has nearly $55,000 in available cash.

Assembly District 37

In one of the swingiest Assembly seats this election cycle, the Democratic incumbent Shea Backus is squaring off against Republican challenger Andy Matthews, former president of the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute. 

Backus won the seat from Republican Assemblyman Jim Marchant by 135 votes in 2018, and Matthews beat out the three other Republicans in the primary election by carrying 49 percent of the vote.

During the second quarter, Matthews reported raising $39,182. His largest donations came in three $5,000 contributions — one from Assemblywoman Jill Tolles’ campaign, another from William Brady, owner of hospitality industry supplier Brady Industries, and the third from Keystone Corporation, a PAC supporting Nevada conservatives. 

Matthews spent more than $113,000 on expenses related to travel, advertising, consultants and office supplies, ending the second quarter with a cash-on-hand balance of $40,457. 

Though Matthews’ spending far outstripped that of any other candidate in the district, Backus has a higher cash-on-hand fund of $136,421 heading into the general election. During the second quarter she reported receiving $28,496 in contributions with top donations amounting to $8,000 from Citizens for Justice PAC, $2,500 from Southwest Gas and another $2,500 from the International Union of Operating Engineers, a union of heavy equipment operators.

Backus’ expenses for the second quarter amounted to $4,600, which went toward advertising and office expenses.

Senate District 5

There are three candidates on the ballot for the general election in Senate District 5, which includes portions of Henderson and southeastern Las Vegas. The district is currently represented by Democrat Joyce Woodhouse, who cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

Democratic candidate Kristee Watson led contributions in the district this period, reporting donations of $53,303, while Republican Carrie Buck reported $34,202 and Libertarian Tim Hagan reported none. All three candidates ran unopposed in their June primaries. 

Watson, the program facilitator for literacy nonprofit Spread the Word Nevada, saw major contributions from the Women’s Empowerment PAC, AFSCME, the Nevada Service Employees Union and Citizens for Justice. She also received $2,500 from the Committee to Elect Sen. Dallas Harris. 

Watson reported only $740 in spending and a cash on hand balance of just over $169,000. Buck has a lower reported cash on hand balance at $95,519, and the Republican candidate has been spending far more, reporting $12,386 during the same period, with nearly $12,000 of that going towards consulting.

Buck received a $10,000 contribution from the Keystone Corporation in April and $5,000 from the campaign of Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer. She has also received large donations from the PAC Nevadans for Integrity in Politics and Associated General Contractors.

Hagan has reported $0 in spending and $0 cash on hand.

Senate District 6

Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro narrowly won her first bid for office in 2016, and appears headed to another close contest against Republican attorney April Becker in one of the most important legislative races on the ballot.

Cannizzaro raised more dollars during the fundraising period than any other candidate — $114,000 — and ended June with more than $692,000 in cash on hand, with reported spending less than $8,800.

Her top donors included 13 entities giving $5,000, including many labor groups; AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Nevada Service Employees Union, and firefighter unions in North Las Vegas and Henderson. She also received $5,000 contributions from the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Eglet Adams law firm, the leadership PAC of Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and the Majority 2020 PAC (which is run by Cannizzaro).

Her largest reported spending was a $5,000 contribution to Democratic state Senate candidate Roberta Lange.

On the Republican side, Becker reported raising nearly $51,700 and spending close to $58,000 during the reporting period, ending with nearly $150,000 in the bank. 

Her top contributions including $10,000 from the conservative Keystone Corporation, and $5,000 each from Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer’s campaign and a construction company owned by former casino executive William Richardson. 

Senate District 15

Republican Sen. Heidi Gansert emerged as one of the top fundraisers of the cycle, reporting nearly $79,000 in contributions and sitting on the biggest pile of campaign cash of any legislative Republican ($271,000) in her first re-election bid for this Reno-area district. 

Her top donors included $10,000 each from the company operating the Stratosphere and a PAC operated by former Lieutenant Gov. Mark Hutchison, as well as $5,000 from Reno Assemblywoman Jill Tolles and $2,500 from her own PAC (NV First).

She reported spending just over $74,000 during the fundraising period, which primarily went to consultant and advertising expenses.

But Democrats have endorsed and rallied around Wendy Jauregui-Jackins, a county appraiser and the sister of Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who both easily beat back a primary challenge in June and reported raising more than $72,000 (including $13,000 in in-kind contributions) during the fundraising cycle.

Her biggest donors included $10,000 from the federal Teamsters PAC, $5,000 each from AFSCME and labor-backed Nevada Republic Alliance, as well as donations from other Democratic elected officials and affiliated PACs; Joyce Woodhouse, Marilyn Dondero-Loop, Dallas Harris, Yvanna Cancela, Melanie Schieble, Attorney General Aaron Ford and even U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s federal leadership PAC.

Jauregui-Jackins reported only $4,500 in spending and has $117,500 in cash on hand.

Senate District 18

Republican incumbent Scott Hammond will compete against Democratic challenger Liz Becker in November in an effort to maintain his Senate District 18 seat. Hammond has held the seat, which represents the northwestern portion of Las Vegas, since 2012. 

Hammond has reported contributions of $25,000 in the second period of 2020 including $5,000 from the Keystone Corporation, and $2,000 each from District 22 Assemblyman Keith Pickard, the Nevada REALTORS PAC, Enterprise Holdings Inc PAC and Cox Communications. Hammond has reported $69,394 in spending, mostly on consulting and special event costs. He has a reported cash on hand of $23,383.

Becker, who dominated the Democratic primary with 88 percent of the vote, is a former teacher and environmental scientist who previously worked with Southern Nevada Water Authority. Becker has reported raising $23,501 during the three-month period including $5,000 from AFSCME, who also endorsed the candidate in her primary. 

Becker reported spending far lower than her opponent at $1,918.13 in the same period, with the majority going towards office expenses. While her contributions for the period were lower, Becker’s reported total cash on hand is higher than her opponents at $30,268.14.

Election Preview: Amid pandemic and budget woes, incumbents and challengers vie for spots in Reno City Council’s general election

As Reno navigates a housing shortage, the stress on city finances during a pandemic that devastated local revenues and a burgeoning population driven in part by global companies setting up shop in the region, candidates in four City Council races are battling to determine who will help guide the city through the next four years.

Incumbents and challengers for three ward positions and one at-large position are appealing to voters via phone calls and social media posts as residents mail or turn in ballots ahead of the June 9 Election Day. Many have canceled traditional campaign methods in the wake of COVID-19, opting for text messages, virtual meet-and-greets, offers of aid and coronavirus-related information-sharing.

The council seats are nonpartisan, and the votes cast in the primary will winnow the field to two candidates running in the November general election. Two of the most contentious council races feature incumbents facing well-funded opposition from candidates hailing from high-profile Reno families.

Three of the council seats, including the mayor, who votes on the council but does not represent a specific geographic district, are not up for re-election in the 2020 cycle.

Ward 1

Ward 1 is the city’s most competitive race, with three candidates mounting well-funded campaigns as they vie for the two spots on the general election ballot.

J.D. Drakulich, a real estate agent, and Britton Griffith, vice president of her family’s development firm Reno Engineering Corporation, are squaring off against incumbent Jenny Brekhus. The winner will represent a section of Reno featuring historic homes and parks.

Drakulich and Griffith criticize the two-term council member for her well-documented combativeness in meetings and what they assert as an inability to work through disagreements with other council members. 

Both challengers come from well-established Reno families, whereas Brekhus is a more recent arrival who moved to Reno in 1998.

Mayor Hillary Schieve endorsed Griffith for the seat in October, citing Griffith’s “positivity” and experience working with the council.

Even though Schieve said her endorsement had nothing to do with Brekhus and was focused on who would be a better fit for the council and the direction she believes it needs to head, the endorsement was just one of many signs of a fractured relationship.

Griffith has served on various nonprofit boards, helped with the city’s master plan and assisted with the Downtown Partnership Business Improvement District. She also was a prior finalist for an appointment on the council — most recently in 2019 for the at-large position now held by Devon Reese.

Brekhus, whom the Reno Gazette-Journal has called “a lone voice for precision in policy on the Reno City Council,” said that she places constituents above special interests and makes decisions based on the good of the ward.

“I’m not afraid to be bold in terms of standing independently and what I think is in the best interest of Ward 1 and the direction the city needs to go,” she told The Nevada Independent.

Brekhus, who is running for her last term and has experience as a city planner, is centering her campaign around improving the city’s fiscal condition, supporting healthy and sustainable city growth and increasing affordable housing, along with making Reno more appealing to young people.

“City Council and City Hall have delivered very narrowly and been the domain of some pretty strong special interests in the community. Those are gaming and those are development,” Brekhus said, adding that as Reno has grown, the city needs to take more diverse issues and opinions into account. “So when I'm doing my work for the City Council, I'm looking out for the broad interests of Ward 1 and their infrastructure and service needs.”

Drakulich is a board member and two-term president at Eddy House, a youth homeless shelter in Reno. He said that one of his motivations for running is that he feels Brekhus neither represents the majority of Ward 1 residents nor has fresh ideas for solving the homeless crisis and other issues that he sees in Reno. 

He cited his role as a residential real estate agent and work with families from various income levels and backgrounds as something that allows him to connect well with residents. He said his main goals are increasing attainable and affordable housing, addressing problems related to homelessness and developing more mental health services.

“I feel strong in a team mentality. It's where I strive, whether I'm a role player or a leader on a team, that's where I feel like we can be effective,” he said. “And I see people in Ward 1 as my teammates, so when they call, I'll be listening and hopefully have fruitful conversations and let their voices be heard.”

Griffith, a self-described “small business champion,” said she is focused on small businesses, increasing public safety including services for homeless populations and directing smart and sustainable city growth. She said she hopes that through her candidacy she can help advocate for businesses and residents alike.

“We have to have somebody … that can sit in a room across party lines and across municipalities, and that didn't hold grudges and doesn't have this history of a combative nature,” Griffith said. “I can come forward and be a new voice for our new Reno and to get those conversations started, reignite, press gaps that we've had and get Ward 1 back on track.”

Out of the three candidates, Griffith is ahead in fundraising efforts with a more than $12,000 lead on Brekhus and about a $23,000 lead on Drakulich for contributions received in the first quarter. She also has a higher spending rate than either of the other candidates. 

Brekhus has the most cash on hand with a little less than $60,000 in her campaign account. Griffith’s cash balance hovers close to $16,000, and Drakulich’s is just under $14,000. 

Brekhus’ largest campaign contributions came in the form of $10,000 from the Teamsters Union, a labor union representing freight drivers, warehouse workers, public defenders and other private and public sector positions. The union also donated to City Council incumbents Reese and Oscar Delgado. 

Griffith’s biggest donor Shallon Andrews gave $5,000 to her campaign, and Drakulich’s top donors include the Peppermill Resort and North Reno Land Development LLC — each contributed $1,000 to his campaign.

At-large

The race to unseat the city's newest councilman, Devon Reese, includes one self-funded perennial candidate and another who hasn't raised any money.

The at-large council position represents residents of the entire city, but in 2024, the wards will be redrawn and a sixth ward will replace the at-large position. Eddie Lorton, who has twice run unsuccessful campaigns for mayor, and Joe Moskowitz, a largely unknown wild card in the race, are looking to take Reese’s seat on the council for the next four years.

Reese is a civil litigation attorney at Hutchison and Steffen, a firm founded by Republican former Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison. The City Council unanimously selected Reese for the at-large council position out of 144 applicants last year. Reese also serves as the council’s vice-mayor.

Previously, Reese ran as a Democrat for the state Senate in a tight race in 2016. He said he is running for the at-large position because it is geared toward finding opportunities to collaborate and building unity on the council. He added that it also gives him the chance to help the city where he grew up.

“Potholes do not care what party you’re in. It’s about trees and parks and police officers and making sure that we have sewers that service the needs of this community. Those are not political things,” Reese said. “You just have to roll up your sleeves every day and do the work.”

Reese describes himself as a bridge-builder and wants to continue with the council’s current trajectory, pushing it further by prioritizing housing, help for housing-insecure populations, public safety and access to education and food resources. He said another one of his goals is to decrease the city’s bureaucracy.

Donations to Reese’s campaign for the first quarter are just under $17,000, with the largest donations being $10,000 from the Teamsters Union, followed by $2,000 donated by Greenstreet Development, Inc. He has a healthy cash on hand balance of around $60,000 heading into the primary. 

Reese’s campaign funding falls short of Lorton’s war chest, though, which is supported by $100,000 Lorton loaned himself in February. 

As of the first quarter, Lorton had spent around $7,000 on advertising and consultants.

When Lorton, the owner of a carpet-cleaning business and investor in real estate, unsuccessfully campaigned against Schieve for mayor in 2014 and 2018, he ran on a platform advocating that the city sell surplus property and move the homeless shelter out of the downtown area

Lorton ran for the mayoral seat after he filed a lawsuit in 2013 contending that council members could not run for mayor once they had served a full 12-year term because the mayor was a member of council.

The Nevada Supreme Court supported Lorton’s argument, a decision that prevented Jessica Sferrazza, a former councilwoman, from running. 

Sferrazza’s departure from the race subsequently made way for Schieve’s candidacy. Schieve held the council’s at-large seat from 2012 to 2014.

On Lorton’s website, he has an agenda called “Reno 2022 Plan,” with almost identical campaign goals and ideas as a “Reno 2022” plan he presented in 2018

He seems to be re-using campaign materials, listing the position he is running for on his campaign finance report as “Mayor, Reno” and hyperlinking a 2018 Gold Star Families Endorsement on his website — until he removed the hyperlink sometime after an op-ed criticizing the candidate and pointing out the link was posted Monday on This is Reno. The endorsement is still listed on his website, but the link is no longer there.

Lorton says that homelessness in Reno is a problem the county should take responsibility for, and in a campaign announcement in February said that he wants to also focus on pedestrian safety.

“It is no secret that I have unsuccessfully thrown my hat in this ring before. But it’s not how many times you get knocked down that matters, it’s how many times you get back up,” Lorton wrote in the announcement. “It is my hope that I will be able to continue helping citizens understand matters that come before the Council, while also starting a new chapter in helping community members engage directly and more regularly with our elected leaders.”

One candidate hoping to challenge the two well-known contenders is newcomer Joe Moskowitz, a retired broadcast journalist. Moskowitz, originally from upstate New York, moved to Reno in 2016 after living in California and Mexico, and says that his newcomer status gives him an advantage because he is not entrenched in Reno’s politics.

“I have no future political ambitions. The Republicans don't like me. The Democratic Committee (DNC) doesn’t like me, and none of that really matters because I want to take my life experiences and for four years … see what we can do,” he said.

Moskowitz said the person in the at-large position should serve as an elected consultant for residents of the city. He said his main goals are prioritizing vulnerable populations, implementing rent control, including communities of color in the city and revamping tourism stemming from the outdoors and arts scene. 

He hopes to build a grassroots campaign but is frustrated because he cannot seem to get support from groups in Reno, such as Planned Parenthood, which endorsed Reese.

“I got a 100 percent on the questionnaire from Planned Parenthood and that included a number of essays, and they acknowledged that, but they said that wouldn’t even be included on the guide until a future voter guide because there’s a legacy connection,” Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz did not receive any donations from January through March, but says he is working to gain votes and is hoping to make one of the two slots on the primary ballot. He said that part of his strategy has been waving his campaign poster along the street in front of some of Lorton’s signs and calling and speaking with voters.

Ward 5

Two-term incumbent Neoma Jardon is the front-runner in Ward 5’s race, where the other three candidates lagged in fundraising efforts during the first quarter of this year.

Ward 5 encompasses an area of Northwest Reno that includes the Old Northwest, University of Nevada, Reno, a variety of residential neighborhoods and parts of downtown.

The other contenders for the position are Darla Fink, a retiree with a masters degree in public administration; Kurtt Gottschalk, a postal worker; and Lee Wilhelm, an instructor in Washoe County School District’s culinary and hospitality program.

Fink has an online presence and has been hosting virtual meetings via Facebook Live, but Gottschalk and Wilhelm do not appear to have websites or a strong social media presence.

Wilhelm is the only candidate out of the three contenders who reported receiving a donation in the first quarter. The report contributions amount totaled to $500, but his campaign finance report did not list any donors who gave $100 or more. 

Jardon, who spent 20 years in business management before becoming a councilwoman and has investment and rental earnings, outmatches the other candidates in fundraising and endorsements. She raised more than $20,000 this quarter. 

In her remaining balance listed at the end of the quarter, Jardon had about $44,000 in her fund.

She is running for her third, and final, term in office and has also received endorsements from the sheriff and other council members including Oscar Delgado and Mayor Hillary Schieve. 

Fink, who funded her campaign through a $5,000 loan from Marilyn Jo Fink, a resident of Sparks, had around $4,500 left in her campaign fund at the end of the quarter.

Gottschalk applied for the at-large council position in 2019 but was not a finalist.

Ward 3

In the Ward 3 council race, incumbent Oscar Delgado far outstrips the only other candidate in terms of fundraising.

Rudy Leon, a librarian, received $600 in donations in the first quarter and had $290 in remaining cash on hand.

In contrast, Delgado, who served two terms on City Council and is running for his last term, raised around $15,700 and had roughly $80,000 left in his ending fund balance.

Ward 3 reaches over the northeast, central and southeast Reno, including neighborhoods east of UNR and Wells Avenue, Mira Loma and southern parts of Damonte Ranch.

Both candidates are advancing to the November general election.

Google Map showing wards in Reno (Source: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1Cp1fME9QNZ2rEH5iLN6nb5AZFWo&ll=39.55143256560122%2C-119.849076&z=10)