The Nevada Republican Party will endorse candidates during the primary in a policy shift designed to increase the party’s influence at a time when contenders get most support and cash from outside groups, individuals and pricey advisers.
The state GOP decided in September to endorse candidates in the 2014 elections, partly to satisfy grass-roots supporters who felt ignored by candidates and incumbents alike, Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald said Thursday.
“The people driving this had a kind of feeling that they wanted to be more involved in the process,” McDonald said. “They felt they weren’t relevant and that, basically, the consultants have taken charge and the people have lost their voice.”
The first endorsements are expected to be made at a Feb. 15 GOP meeting in Fallon, although the official candidate filing period isn’t until March 3-14. Additional endorsements could come during the state GOP’s convention April 12-13 in Las Vegas, the party said.
McDonald said the GOP plans to endorse candidates at every level — from the governor’s job and other state offices to seats in the state Assembly and Senate. The party might stay away from nonpartisan judicial offices, he said.
Traditionally, the state Republican and Democratic parties stay out of primary races, letting voters determine the nominees. The Nevada primary is June 10. The general election is Nov. 4.
This year, however, GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is running for re-election, personally endorsed a slate of candidates — a move that seemed to weaken the state party’s power even more.
In the most competitive primary contest, Sandoval endorsed state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, in the lieutenant governor’s race over Republican Sue Lowden, a former state senator, failed 2010 U.S. Senate candidate and GOP chairwoman.
In this case, it’s unclear who the party might favor in the lieutenant governor’s race. Hutchison is less known, although he has Sandoval’s backing. Lowden is well-known and has been active in the party for decades, but as GOP chairwoman, she angered supporters of former presidential hopeful Ron Paul by shutting down the state convention in 2008.
During the past few years, the Nevada Republican Party has been fractured by divisions, mostly between libertarian-minded supporters of former Texas Rep. Paul and establishment Republicans. After the party was taken over by Paul acolytes heading into the 2012 elections, it lost establishment GOP support and remains isolated.
Making candidates compete for the state GOP’s endorsement, however, could give grass-roots party regulars a bigger say in campaigns and influence voting at the ballot box.
“I think it favors all the candidates,” McDonald said. “It gets each camp excited for their candidate. We want to turn people out.”
Chuck Muth, a GOP rabble-rouser and former executive director of the state party, said he has long argued the party should endorse candidates and then hold them to their promises. He said big-money politics with outside donations has changed how elections work.
“An official endorsement is the only thing a party has to offer a candidate,” Muth said. “That’s worth its weight in gold to some candidates if they know how to use it.”
Mark Peplowski, a political science professor at College of Southern Nevada, said offering GOP endorsements isn’t a good idea and puts power back into the hands of a few.
“It’s stupid,” Peplowski said. “It sets a very bad precedent because who is in control of the party can get their people in. They’re going back to the smoke-filled caucus process where people are told who to vote for. This is a step backwards.”
The Nevada GOP released a one-page explanation of how the endorsement process will work. It said candidates will be judged by a 16-member Nominating Committee on their stances on the party platform and their “vision and goals for the State of Nevada, party participation and viability.” The candidates also must sit for interviews.
The Nominating Committee then will recommend candidate endorsements, which will be voted on by the GOP’s Central Committee or several hundred party members from across the state. Multiple candidates might be endorsed in a single race, the party said.
“The spirit of the Nominating Committee is to rely on (an) objective and fair process to achieve results to encourage unity within our party, while discouraging majority factional preferences that can change with the wind,” the GOP document said.
The endorsement idea has given hope to some long-shot candidates.
Eddie Hamilton, who is running as a Republican in the gubernatorial primary against Sandoval, said he is a member of the GOP Central Committee and can talk up his candidacy and vote for himself to be endorsed.
“I have a chance because I know most of the people,” said Hamilton, a perennial candidate who has run for U.S. Senate. “But there might be some politics involved.”
Contact reporter Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj