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A year after reclaiming state party from socialists, are NV Dems building back better?

Chair Daniele Monroe-Moreno has emphasized retail politics as the state party’s calling card.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Election 2024Elections

A little over a year ago, Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno (D-North Las Vegas) was elected chair of the Nevada State Democratic Party.

It was an effort that had been in the making since a group of Sen. Bernie Sanders-inspired socialists took over the party in 2021, setting off a chain reaction that saw the old party faithful depart and form a shadow organization in Washoe County.

A year after taking back the helm, “DMM” has overseen the rebuilding of the state party through the hiring of permanent staffers, the implementation of quarterly weekends of service to engage volunteers and the all-important task of raising money. Her leadership has marked a return to the practices that former Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and the eponymous Machine he implemented and ran for nearly two decades.

Of course, it wasn’t like the establishment quietly faded into the background last cycle. Working out of Nevada Democratic Victory, a side organization they set up within the Washoe County Democratic Party, they still served as a hub for each of the major Democratic campaigns in the state. 

And 2022 was far from a disaster — in what was supposed to be a down year for Democrats, the party held on to its U.S. Senate seat, three House seats and picked up a seat in each chamber of the Legislature. Only Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) was unable to hold onto his post, more a casualty of sour feelings on the economy and the pandemic than of Democratic disputes.

So, is it meaningful that the Reid Machine is once again pulling the levers of the state party?

Democrats working for the state party and for 2024 campaigns say it matters in a few key aspects — brand name, financial strength and dedicated staff among them. 

For one, it’s just less effort.

“It was certainly a lot of work to get that new organization set up and running, which is not the work you want to be doing in the off year,” said Stewart Boss, Sen. Jacky Rosen’s (D-NV) campaign manager, describing 2021. “You want to be laying the groundwork to prosecute the case against Republicans.”

On the financial piece, records show that when Monroe-Moreno took over in early 2023, the state party had accumulated nearly $100,000 in debt. Party leadership said a year later, the Dems have more than $1 million cash on hand.

State parties are tasked with winning elections — and being able to hire people on a permanent basis allows for recruiting better talent, said Molly Forgey, who served as Sisolak’s deputy campaign manager in 2022. 

“Having the stability of a state party and being able to say, ‘We want you to be a part of this core team that is going to operate year round, and not just this brief, short stint,’ — that's really helpful,” she said. “It allows you to hire the best of the best.”

Staff inside and outside of the party mentioned Monroe-Moreno’s focus on diversity in hiring as an asset, given how much Democrats rely on a multiracial coalition to win. She brought in three department heads who are both native Nevadans and Spanish speakers and chartered several new identity-focused caucuses, including for Jewish Democrats, Asian American and Pacific Islander Democrats, seniors, women and LGBTQIA+ Democrats.

In an interview, Monroe-Moreno also described bringing a culture of retail politics to the state party — the weekends of service often involve staffers helping out at food drives or school fairs, building relationships with Democratic voters who may then feel empowered to become volunteers. She mentioned the state party responding to calls from everyone from tribal members wanting to discuss issues they want the Legislature to take up, to seniors who need someone to check out a community center with them — in other words, old-school shoe leather politics.

“We have boots on the ground,” Monroe-Moreno said. “My theme is to show up and show out — to be there for people.”

The vast majority of the staff hires also come from Nevada — “emphasizing the institutional knowledge and experience that we have,” said Paul Selberg, a former Nevada Conservation League executive director who added that Monroe-Moreno’s position in the Assembly means the bottom of the ballot isn’t ignored.

Hiring rates have proven a major difference between Nevada’s two state parties. Democrats are currently operating with a team of eight full-time staff — with a ninth joining later this week — while Republicans had one during the February caucus. The Nevada GOP did not return requests for comment on the party's current staffing levels.

Forgey also added that whether introducing herself to volunteers, donors or voters, staffers saying they’re with the state party is a much simpler sell than having to explain, as they did last cycle, that they worked for an offshoot group with far lower name identification.

When former chair Judith Whitmer was in charge of the party, elected Democrats in Nevada worked both publicly and privately to take back control of the party’s central committee in order to be in the best position to ensure victory in the 2023 chair election. Those elected officials were able to coordinate their campaigns with the offshoot group, but whether or not that made a difference in reality — given most of them still won — it was clearly important to Democratic leaders to have the state party back under their preferred leadership come 2024.

But Democrats are not the only elected officials engaging in party building. On the other side, Gov. Joe Lombardo (R-NV) is building out his own campaign machine, using a patchwork of political action committees and funds to send money to endorsed candidates, groups and consultants.

While Reid intentionally built out his machinery through the state party, Lombardo is choosing to create separate entities away from a Nevada GOP embroiled in legal woes.

So perhaps the best test of whether a well-oiled state party matters will come this cycle, when the state Democratic Party squares off against the Lombardo apparatus in the state’s myriad significant down-ballot races.

Monroe-Moreno said well-run state parties are like parents — keeping all other elements of the partisan family together and on schedule. 

“It takes that state party — that mom and dad, that family — to bring us together to work as a coordinated team,” she said. “I think that's a difference between us and the GOP.” 


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