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Indy Elections: The GOP cattle call comes to Vegas

Plus: GOP voters get to grips on the primary/caucus
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Sean Golonka
Sean Golonka
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
The Nevada Independent Staff
The Nevada Independent Staff
Indy Elections

Indy Elections is The Nevada Independent’s newsletter devoted to comprehensive and accessible coverage of the 2024 elections, from the race for the White House to the bid to take control of the Legislature.

In today’s edition: We look back at the busiest weekend of Republican presidential campaigning in Nevada so far this cycle (low bar). Plus, we ask voters if they know that there’s a primary AND a caucus. Finally, wishing readers a very spooky Halloween this Tuesday (and a very real Nevada Day to all who celebrate). 

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We want to hear from you! Send us your questions, comments, observations, jokes, or what you think we should be covering or paying attention to. Email Jacob Solis, your humble newsletter editor, at [email protected].

Days until: 

  • Nevada presidential primary: 98
  • GOP presidential caucus: 100
  • Election Day: 371

What we learned from a weekend at the RJC

After months of relegation to the election doldrums, Nevada saw not one but eight presidential candidates fly in for the annual Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) leadership summit in Las Vegas on Saturday — a regular tradition for GOP electeds, especially under the sponsorship of the party’s once-biggest donor, the late Sheldon Adelson. 

Just weeks after Hamas’ attack on Israel, the candidates were widely expected to keep their speeches focused on support for Israel and attack Joe Biden and pro-Palestine demonstrations on college campuses. 

And all eight candidates delivered. Through three hours of speeches, there were few surprises — save the sudden exit of former Vice President Mike Pence from the field. 

At one end, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touted an executive order for chartered planes for Israelis to Florida. At the other, Nikki Haley — the only candidate to acknowledge Pence’s announcement mere minutes before — targeted Trump with a more direct salvo: “We know what Donald Trump did in the past. The question is, what will he do in the future?”

“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” the former South Carolina governor said. “And given those stakes, we cannot have four years of chaos, vendettas and drama.” 

But in Nevada, will any of it matter? 

Haley, alongside Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), will be on Nevada’s primary ballot and will not face Trump in the caucus. Saturday marked her first ever visit to the state as a 2024 candidate, where Trump still leads early polls by roughly 50 points. Pence, too, will be on the primary ballot, after ending his campaign after the deadline to withdraw. 

Scott and Haley have otherwise made minimal efforts in Nevada, instead concentrating on Iowa. The Nevada GOP will only allocate delegates to caucus participants, neutering the primary into a Trump-free popularity contest.

By contrast, Trump and DeSantis were the only two candidates to hold events outside the RJC speech marathon. DeSantis hosted a pre-event breakfast on the Strip, while Trump lambasted his opponents at a country bar, riffing to a crowd of 1,000 for nearly an hour.   

Notably, Trump was introduced Saturday evening by state GOP Chair Michael McDonald — whose party apparatus has been criticized by Trump opponents as having “rigged” the caucus rules in his favor. 

“Michael’s been here a long time, doing a fantastic job,” Trump said at his Las Vegas rally. “He's been a friend of mine for a long time.”

— Jacob Solis

There’s a primary AND a caucus?

If you’re confused about the Nevada Republican Party’s 2024 “First in the West” presidential caucus and the state-run presidential primary, you’re not alone.

Several Republican voters who fanned across the Las Vegas Strip Saturday to attend events featuring Trump and DeSantis also expressed confusion and criticism of the competing electoral contests.

Trump’s Saturday night event was billed as a way for his supporters to commit to supporting him in the caucus. Campaign volunteers passed around “commit-to-caucus” cards to supporters, some of whom had no idea there would be a primary and a caucus.

“A lot of people are very surprised that Trump is not going to be on the [primary] ballot,” said Lorena Biassotti, a campaign volunteer. “They’re saying ‘Why isn’t the media saying that?’”

Jeff Kleine, a retired computer programmer who lives in Las Vegas, said he only heard about the caucus and primary while standing in line for Trump’s rally.

“I had no idea about that,” he said. “It’s pretty rotten, frankly.”

Despite DeSantis’ decision to file for the party-run caucus, multiple voters shared views aligned with those of the Florida governor’s campaign and the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC — that the rules of the caucus barring participation in both contests and prohibiting super PAC involvement favored Trump.

Beyond McDonald’s presence at the start of Trump’s Saturday night rally, the signs of the state party’s affinity toward the president aren’t hard to find, from party leaders backstage at the Trump event to the Nevada GOP’s website prominently featuring on its homepage a press release about Trump filing for the caucus. The party’s release announcing Trump’s filing includes McDonald stating he is “thrilled” to have Trump in the caucus, “a candidate who has a proven track record of delivering results.” 

The DeSantis release includes no such praises.

Sean Golonka and Eric Neugeboren

What we’re reading and writing

PHOTOS: Nevadans gather for state holiday celebration marked by campaigning prohibition by Carly Sauvageau and David Calvert

Behold, the annual Nevada Day (observed)

Trump rails against ‘political’ legal battles, attacks primary rivals in Las Vegas rally by Eric Neugeboren and Jacob Solis

Trump, again, repeated unfounded “rigged” election claims as legal cases against him have multiplied.

GOP presidential hopefuls voice support for Israel, Pence drops out at Vegas summit by Gabby Birenbaum, Jacob Solis and Sean Golonka

ICYMI: A full day of presidential hopefuls at the RJC. 

Dean Phillips to skip Nevada primary in challenge to Biden by Jacob Solis

In which Nevada Democrats lambaste Phillips’ Nevada-free strategy.

Harvey Munford, West Las Vegas leader, educator and former assemblyman, dies at age 83 by Sean Golonka and Tabitha Mueller

“He was a tall giant in this community. Everybody looked up to Harvey,” Las Vegas pastor and political consultant Billy McCurdy said.

Termed-out Sen. Scott Hammond resigns from northwest Las Vegas Senate seat by Sean Golonka and Jacob Solis

The termed-out Hammond leaves the party early for a mystery job.

The Lightning Round

🎓“B” grade for gov — Gov. Joe Lombardo said he wasn’t ready to give himself an “A” grade during an interview with Vegas PBS last week, but gave himself a “B” grade while touting his approval of his school safety bill (AB330) and a $2 billion increase in education funding. Lombardo said he would go into the 2025 legislative session planning to implement more “accountability” measures alongside increased education funding, including the possibilities of removing teachers who “don't perform” and withholding funding. 

🛑Anti-strike team — Lombardo also weighed in on the ongoing Clark County teacher contract dispute, saying he believes teachers should not be allowed to strike and that he is still in conversations on negotiations. And on the potential of a Culinary Union strike, he said he hopes the two sides figure it out and described a past union strike as a “drain” on public safety resources, casinos and the tourism industry.

😳‘Embarrassed’ for veto record — After setting a record this year for most vetoes in a single legislative session (75), Lombardo said vetoes “aren't good government” and described “deplorable” legislation passed by the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature as a way of testing him. His hardest veto decision? SB239, a bill that would have legalized medical aid in dying.

💬Lombardo-isms — Hello, reporter Sean Golonka interjecting here. The former cop turned statewide public figure often puts his own spin on well-known idioms. In the Vegas PBS interview, Lombardo said, “You can’t eat an elephant all at once, right? Small bites at a time.” I’m coining this as a “Lombardo-ism,” and if you have any favorites, or spot any new ones, let me know!

🗳️ Legislative candidate update — Retired Henderson police officer April Arndt received Lombardo’s endorsement last week. For a complete list of the latest legislative candidate announcements, check out The Nevada Independent’s tracker here.

🗺️“F” grade for gerrymander — The Princeton Gerrymandering Project finally graded Nevada’s 2021 congressional maps — which received a resounding “F” grade for “partisan fairness.” The group’s analysis found a “significant Democratic advantage” — one that shouldn’t surprise careful readers of the newsletter, who may remember Democrats handily winning three of four congressional seats and near legislative supermajorities in 2022, even as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) only squeaked by statewide. The maps fared better on “competitiveness” and “geographic features,” however, notching “C” grades on both. 

(This Lightning Round has so many grades you might think it was Indy Education.)

🔚Elder finds the exits — In case anyone was wondering why Republican candidate Larry Elder, a long shot, skipped filing for the Nevada GOP caucus earlier this month, even after attending the state party’s meeting in Winnemucca, we now have our answer. The conservative radio host bowed out of the race on Oct. 26, endorsing former President Donald Trump. 

— Sean Golonka and Jacob Solis

And to ease you into the week, a few “posts” to “X” that caught our eye: 

We’ll see you next week. 

Interested in more newsletters from The Nevada IndependentFind them all here.


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