The Nevada Republican Party tapped Michael McDonald as the party’s chairman Saturday, giving him a third term at a central committee meeting in Las Vegas.
It’s a first in the state party’s history, party officials said, and puts McDonald at the helm for the next two years at a critical juncture: Nevada Republicans hope to put a Republican in the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Democrat Harry Reid.
And the February caucuses are three months away, when party members will indicate their preference for who should be on the GOP ticket for president.
McDonald, who has been chairman since 2012, received 182 votes, while 151 votes went to challenger Nick Phillips, former political director for the Clark County Republican Party.
The election is a victory to the grassroots wing of the state GOP that is at odds with moderate Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and his supporters. The split has widened since the GOP-led Legislature approved Sandoval’s $1.1 billion tax package earlier this year, but without support from the party’s more conservative legislators.
After the vote, McDonald said the move will give the party much needed stability at an important time for the members.
“It’s an honor,” McDonald said. “… We have stability in the party and when you have stability you can build on it. That’s the important thing now as we move forward.”
McDonald faced scrutiny while running for a third term amid questions over a lawsuit over a $2.2 million loan. The loan was issued in 2013 from Miracle Flights for Kids, a Las Vegas nonprofit, to Med Lien Management. McDonald was on the children’s charity board and also a partner in the medical lien company at the time, according to documents filed in a lawsuit and a federal bankruptcy proceeding. The loan went into default, sparking a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the charity.
McDonald resigned from the charity in 2014 and has sharply denied influencing the loan.
The controversy didn’t come up at the meeting.
But there were other disagreements. The party had received a legal opinion from its law firm that suggested Republicans couldn’t run for chairman if they weren’t a member of the central committee. If that interpretation had been followed, Phillips would have been disqualified.
Eventually, the party decided to allow Phillips to remain on the ballot. That came after he argued that it should be up to the body, not an attorney, to make the final decision.
“Mister chairman, members of the board, this is a sham,” Phillips said when arguing his case. But he also pledged to back whoever is elected.
One motion came from a woman who wanted the group to go into closed session, citing concerns about the news media being present and writing a story about divisiveness among Republicans.
But that motion died.
“Read about it in the RJ,” McDonald said after the effort failed.
Phillips cast himself as a solid communicator who could help lead efforts to attract young people to bolster the party’s ranks.
McDonald, on the other hand, said that when he took over as chairman, he boosted efforts to give the party faithful a stronger say in its affairs. “I gave you that voice because that’s where I used to sit,” said McDonald, adding he has belonged to the party since 1983.
The state party and Republican National Committee have a good relationship, he said.
After the vote, Phillips and McDonald pledged to work together.
“Thanks everybody for your support,” Phillips said. “I hope that everybody’s still willing to come to dinner. I’ll be there, so I hope to see you there.”
Contact Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.