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Indy Elections: What Brown’s abortion comments mean for 2024

Plus: Another bad Biden poll in Nevada
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Tabitha Mueller
Tabitha Mueller
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
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: Groundhog Day was a few weeks ago, but in a sign of just how important it is to voters and politicians alike, we’re talking about abortion again. Plus, we have a new poll and ad campaign!

Click this link to manage your newsletter subscriptions. This newsletter is published weekly.

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 the team at [email protected].

Editor’s note: This is farewell from Jacob Solis, the editor/sometimes writer of the Indy Elections newsletter. Though you may see my byline on The Indy’s website through next month, this blurb is my last contribution to the newsletter. 

I leave you in the capable hands of the rest of The Indy’s elections team — Tabitha, Gabby and Eric — who I trust will keep the jokes flowing from here. I’ll miss them all, as well as my editors, who dutifully remind us almost every week to stop turning in 3,000 word newsletter drafts. To wit: I will not miss using Mailchimp, a monkey on my back if there ever was one. 

— Jacob Solis

Days until: 

  • Candidate filing opens: 5
  • Regular primary Election Day: 104
  • Election Day: 251

Democrats’ abortion offensive

By Eric Neugeboren

In 2022 and fresh off the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nevada Democrats rhetorically said that abortion was on the ballot. 

Now ahead of 2024, Democrats are now taking steps to make that literal.

On Saturday, Nevadans for Reproductive Freedom officially launched a ballot initiative that would enshrine abortion access in the state Constitution in a Las Vegas event briefly interrupted by anti-abortion demonstrators. The question has so far received more than 10,000 signatures, but it must receive at least 102,586 signatures by July 8 to qualify for the 2024 ballot. As a proposed constitutional initiative, it would need to pass again in 2026.

The effort has the backing of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat and potential future presidential candidate, whose nonprofit poured $1 million into the initiative last year. He told The Nevada Independent in an interview that even though abortion is legal up to 24 weeks in Nevada via a ballot referendum that can only be overturned by another vote of the people, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade underscores the need for more protections.

“Even though it may be codified into state law, it's not in your Constitution, and it's important to make sure that women now and forever going forward, have their freedom protected,” Pritzker said.

At the same time, top Democrats in the state are teaming up with abortion rights groups to paint former President Donald Trump and Sam Brown — the GOP front-runners for president and Nevada’s Senate seat, respectively — as extreme anti-abortion candidates.

Yet Democrats still need to convince voters that abortion remains a critical political issue. An October New York Times/Siena College poll found that more Nevadans think abortion should be legal than another Times/Siena poll taken a year earlier, but that fewer Nevadans viewed social issues, such as abortion, as most important to them. 

Pritzker said voters’ decisions are more nuanced than polls suggest.

 “[Voters] might say the economy is the most important issue and that abortion is second or third,  but when they're sitting there in the voting booth and making a decision, they're factoring in, ‘Does the candidate care passionately about something I care passionately about?’” Pritzker said.

Adriana Perro, 23, attended Tuesday’s event and said she thinks that people may be putting abortion access on the backburner now, making spreading the word on the issue necessary.

“Women are losing their rights every day,” she said.

Does Sam Brown’s abortion interview matter?

By Gabby Birenbaum

Republican front-runner Sam Brown threw a curveball in Nevada’s Senate race last Wednesday when he revealed in an NBC interview that he would not support a federal abortion ban and respects Nevada’s current law protecting abortion up to 24 weeks.

Brown’s comments, which came in the context of an interview alongside his wife, Amy, who revealed she had an abortion before she met her husband, represents a new frontier for Republican Senate candidates — some of whom have similar “don’t rock the boat” on abortion comments if elected. 

And numerous GOP Senate candidates, including Brown, followed the lead of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in issuing statements in support of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment after Alabama’s conservative Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have legal protections as children.

But Brown, in personalizing the issue via his wife’s story and urging more compassionate responses for women, took the abortion question to places few Republicans have been willing to go.

Doing so makes sense in a purple state such as Nevada where abortion has retained majority support and legal protection for decades.

In Republicans’ best-case scenario, Brown’s new abortion stance and defense of IVF will neutralize the issue in 2024, taking away the Democrats’ preferred campaign message. By taking abortion off the table, Brown could theoretically make the Senate race a referendum on an issue set more friendly to him — inflation, government spending and the border.


National and Nevada Democrats met Brown’s announcement with skepticism, noting that the candidate has not been consistent on the issue. 

In a 2014 run for the Texas Legislature, Brown said supporting the state’s 20-week ban was a “nonnegotiable” for him. In 2022, his campaign answered a questionnaire saying abortion should be banned in all cases except when the mother’s life is at risk — a survey he said was filled out by a staffer without authorization. As recently as September, he said in a statement that he was pro-life, which exceptions of rape, incest and cases where the mother’s life is at risk — a stance not necessarily incongruent with his latest pronouncement, but less specific about what he would be willing to support in Washington.

And of course, a national ban isn’t the only way abortion rights might be affected post-November — if Brown wins the nomination, he’ll likely be sharing a ticket with Trump, who reportedly supports a 16-week ban.

In the wake of the Alabama decision, Democrats also want voters to blame Trump and Republicans for the imperiling of reproductive rights beyond abortion. The Democratic National Committee is running billboard ads in Las Vegas and Reno in English and Spanish starting Tuesday morning with a photo of Trump and the message “Banning abortion, stopping IVF: Is Nevada next?”

While Brown is backed by national Republicans and has a massive fundraising advantage over his primary opponents, he still has to win in June against a host of candidates eager to outflank him on the right.

Jeff Gunter, a dermatologist and former Trump ambassador to Iceland, took to X to call Brown a “RINO,” or Republican in Name Only, telling voters that as a physician, he could provide “moral clarity” while accusing Brown of “racing to the left.”

Gunter had actually beat Brown to the punch in November, when he posted that he did not support a national abortion ban.

UNLV political science professor David Damore said he saw Brown’s interview as an effort to counter Democrats’ abortion messaging by staking out a more moderate position, buoyed by a personal story. But he said Brown might not be able to outrun people’s feelings about Republicans on abortion.

“I don't know if it'll much matter, because the broader party dynamic is gonna shape a lot of people's perceptions,” Damore said.

What we’re reading and writing

Secretary of state apologizes for voter record glitch after Nevada’s presidential primary by Tabitha Mueller, Eric Neugeboren and Jacob Solis

Nevada’s Frankenstein’s monster of an election system is about to get a face-lift.

Nevada Senate fundraising: Rosen donors more active, hail from more states than Brown’s by Eric Neugeboren

As ABBA smartly frames it, “money, money, money, always sunny in the rich man’s world.”

Indy Explains: How public employees can avoid ethics violations during campaign season by Carly Sauvageau

Knowing the rules so you can bend them is for writers, not candidates.

On the Trail: “A glitch in the (Nevada election) matrix”

The latest edition of On the Trail features Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, who joined the show to explain what led to a coding glitch in Nevada’s voter registration database — and whether the state’s election systems will be ready for prime time. You can listen to On the Trail via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts. 

And a sad programming note: due to changes in staffing, On the Trail will be going on hiatus starting this week. 

Indy Poll Watch

Emerson College/The Hill (Feb. 16-19)

  • 1,000 registered voters (Nevada)
  • Credibility interval: 3 percent

More bad news for Biden out of the latest Emerson College poll of Nevada, which has him down 6 points to Trump in a head-to-head matchup and down 10 when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is included as an independent. However, 13 percent of voters remain undecided in either scenario.

The poll finds Biden only beating Trump by 1 percentage point among women — a group he won by 10 points in 2020, according to exit polling, and losing among Hispanics by over 2 percentage points, whom he won by 25 points last election.

In the Senate race, the poll finds Rosen and Brown in a dead heat, with nearly a quarter of voters still undecided. — Gabby Birenbaum

Indy Ad Watch

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Action — “Sam Brown for U.S. Senate

Fresh off Koch-backed AFP’s announcement that they’ll no longer be giving money to presidential candidate Nikki Haley, the group announced a $600,000 ad buy in Nevada to support Sam Brown’s Senate bid. 

The group is running two spots highlighting Brown’s military service and raising issues friendly to Republicans — inflation, government spending, energy and the border.

Gabby Birenbaum

The Lightning Round

🕵️ Tired: 2024 speculation. Wired: 2026 speculation — It’s not yet 2026, but does Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) have her eyes on higher office? The top state senator attended a Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) conference in Seattle on Feb. 14 — an interesting trip as Attorney General Aaron Ford is termed out of office in 2026. A source confirmed the visit but said DAGA invited Cannizzaro and reiterated that she is focused on her 2024 re-election campaign. 

🤯 County election officials say low pay, burnout remain problems — At an interim legislative meeting Thursday, top elections officials from four Nevada counties said they continue to have problems retaining staff because of low pay and burnout. In some cases, county clerks — who can work at least 12-hour days during peak election season — are making up to $7,000 less than their staff. Election workers are also making just $12.50 an hour in Carson City and $12 an hour in Douglas County. This comes as Douglas County filled less than half of its poll worker positions during the presidential primary.

Eric Neugeboren and Tabitha Mueller

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

We’ll see you next week.

This newsletter was updated on 3/14/24 at 4:25 p.m. to correct the signature requirements for a question to be placed on the November ballot.


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