Republican endorsements leave boycotting candidates out in the cold

If you didn’t know why the Nevada Republican Party’s plan to issue pre-primary endorsements was controversial before, it’s easier to understand when you glance at the final list of party-approved candidates.

In key races, races for seats held by elected leaders, and in one congressional race, the establishment candidate lost out to conservative challengers. (Many incumbents, however, refused to submit to the party’s endorsement process, a questionnaire about their beliefs and an interview with an endorsement committee. That made them automatically ineligible for the party’s backing.)

Only Gov. Brian Sandoval was able to snub the party — and skip the biennial convention, like most other high-profile elected Republicans — and still get endorsed. He got the party’s backing after a vote of the convention itself, even if he was left off the list of recommended candidates. (But the party was able to avoid a truly embarrassing spectacle of backing one of the four minor GOP challengers over an incumbent governor so popular, even Democrats couldn’t find a top-tier candidate.)

But in Congressional District 4, it was conservative TV personality Niger Innis who got the party’s nod, not Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite. Either one will have a hard time beating incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford. (Incumbent Reps. Mark Amodei and Joe Heck also got the nod.)

Hotelier Sue Lowden got the endorsement in the race for lieutenant governor, not state Sen. Mark Hutchison, the pick of the establishment (and Sandoval’s choice!). Hutchison, like Sandoval, balked at submitting his credentials to the party for its endorsement. As Sandoval said: His record speaks for itself. And by not asking for the party’s endorsement, Hutchison avoided having to explain his votes to extend that package of supposedly temporary taxes, or to implement the Affordable Care Act in Nevada, things for which Lowden has repeatedly criticized him.

In state Senate District 9, a must-win race if Republicans want to capture the upper house from Democrats, the state party backed Vick Gill, a candidate who mulled the race briefly in 2012 before withdrawing. Overlooked was the handpicked choice of Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, attorney Becky Harris, who boycotted the endorsement process. (There are two more Republicans in that race, looking to unseat Democrat Justin Jones.) The party made no endorsement in Senate District 8, another seat Republicans need to keep in order to take the majority.

Speaking of Roberson, he attended the convention, if not an endorsement interview, making him apparently the highest-ranking elected Republican in Nevada to do so. For his trouble, the party endorsed his primary challenger, Carl Bunce, who submitted his name for party backing. (A slightly less embarrassing fate awaited Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey, who also boycotted the endorsement process; the party made no endorsement in Hickey’s Assembly District 25.) Incumbent establishment state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer boycotted, and saw the party nod go to challenger Gary Schmidt.

A handful of incumbent conservative senators did get the party’s backing: Dr. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City; Don Gustavson, R-Sparks; and James Settelmeyer, R-Minden. Ditto for some Assembly members, including John Hambrick, Paul Anderson, Wes Duncan and Michele Fiore, all R-Las Vegas; Melissa Woodbury, R-Henderson; Ira Hansen, R-Sparks; John Ellison, R-Elko; Jim Wheeler, R-Minden; and the unopposed James Oscarson, R-Pahrump.

The point of the pre-primary endorsements is that not just anyone who checks the “Republican” box automatically deserves party backing, and that incumbents will have to face the consequences of their votes. But the counter-point is just as valid: By encouraging Republican primaries with the potential of state party support, even for a candidate with much less of a chance of winning a general election, the party is making it harder to win majorities.

And the fact that Sandoval — despite signing a bill to extend the sunset taxes; allowing Clark and Washoe county commissioners to vote on raising other taxes; expanding Medicaid and establishing a state-based insurance exchange; and boycotting the party’s process entirely — got endorsed anyway shows that enough Nevada Republicans understand that snubbing all incumbents on ideological grounds is probably a bad idea.

Now, I wonder if the governor will tout the backing of the party on the campaign trail?

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or