98°F
weather icon Clear

Lee, Rodimer set to wrestle for 3rd District seat

Updated June 20, 2020 - 8:16 pm

Combat metaphors are often unavoidable during election season, but the emergence of a 6-foot-7-inch, 300-pound former professional wrestler as the Republican candidate for one of the West’s most highly coveted congressional seats makes it all too easy.

The proverbial corners in the contest for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District were set this week, as challenger Dan “Big Dan” Rodimer easily claimed the Republican nomination against incumbent Democrat Rep. Susie Lee after contested primaries.

The Republicans’ congressional arm got it started right away.

“His big personality and fighter mentality will win over Nevada voters,” the National Republican Congressional Committee said in its opening memo.

Metaphors aside, Lee enters her first re-election bid with nearly every measurable advantage.

She has incumbency and a clear fundraising advantage. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 3rd District by more than 15,000 active registered voters.

In last week’s primary, Lee earned nearly as many votes (49,223) as the entire Republican field (50,469), despite having two challengers. In all, Democrats captured nearly 55 percent of the primary votes — up from 52 percent in 2018 and 45 percent in 2016.

This will also not be her first contested campaign. After finishing third in the 4th District’s 2016 Democratic primary, she comfortably beat Republican Danny Tarkanian in 2018 to capture the 3rd District seat, which was again heavily targeted by both parties.

“I’m battle-tested,” Lee said in an interview Saturday. “I’ve been through a tough race before, and I know what it’s going to take to win the seat.”

But Rodimer enters the race having already defeated a better-funded, more established politician days ago in former Nevada Treasurer Dan Schwartz.

“We were down 10 points in the polls when ballots went out,” Rodimer said in an interview Saturday. “And in what — six or eight weeks? We won by 23 points. Now, I worked my butt off, but that’s the real story. I’m the comeback kid, here.”

Already targets

Republicans and their allies did not take 2019 off in campaigning against Lee.

In December, the American Action Network poured $500,000 into two ads targeting Lee on her vote to impeach President Donald Trump. Lee’s district narrowly supported Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

Impeachment will continue to be a defense point for Lee, who will also try to deflect attempts to tie her to more liberal and well-known Democratic congressional members, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“They do that no matter what I do and what I show,” Lee said.

Lee has stressed her moderate views early on in the campaign, saying she is consistently rated as one of Congress’ most bipartisan lawmakers. She has pushed bills on child care expansion and protection for college students defrauded by for-profit universities with bipartisan support.

The Lugar Center, which rates lawmakers based on how often their bills get bipartisan backing and how often they back bills from the other party, ranked Lee as the 103rd-most bipartisan Congress member in 2019. She finished 53rd among Democrats and tops within Nevada’s delegation, which her campaign stressed is difficult to accomplish as a freshman still introducing herself to other members.

More recently, Lee has been targeted over her push for the federal government to make Paycheck Protection Program loans available for small gaming businesses. Republicans allege Lee acted unethically, as husband Dan Lee’s company, Full House Resorts, benefited from the change.

A mobile billboard alleging Lee secured $5.6 million in taxpayer money for her husband’s business drove through Lee’s district and the Strip on Thursday. The billboard was paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC.

Rodimer said Lee had forgotten about working Nevadans while using her position to “enrich her own pocket” with this money.

Lee slammed the attacks Saturday, saying she put politics aside to give 40,000 Nevada businesses a lifeline during an unprecedented crisis.

“I worked with the entire bipartisan delegation to get my constituents a paycheck,” Lee said, adding that she since has voted for total transparency within the Paycheck Protection Program.

“Republicans and Democrats joined me in this fight, and partisan hacks funded by shadowy super PACs are attacking me for it,” she said. “That’s why people are frustrated with Washington. It’s deceptive. It’s cynical. And I’m not going to let it stop me.”

Rodimer has also had to parry attacks for the past few months.

Schwartz released a series of ads calling him a violent criminal, stemming from a 2010 battery arrest in Florida and several subsequent assault accusations that did not lead to arrests. According to court records, Rodimer entered into deferred prosecution and completed an anger management course in exchange for the charge being dropped in 2012.

“The smear campaign didn’t work,” Rodimer said. “People want to hear what you’re going to do for them, and they want their voice restored here in Nevada.”

He added that he will handle any future reference to the arrest in the same way: focusing on voter issues and highlighting his unique background. He said that he is a small-business owner, law school graduate, and husband and father of five — soon to be six — children and that he serves on charity and school advisory boards.

Following the money

With COVID-19 likely to cripple in-person campaigning, Southern Nevadans’ TV screens, mailboxes and cellphones probably will be popular destinations for Lee, Rodimer and their allies.

Lee heads into November with more than $2 million in the bank as of late May, while Rodimer, having spent more than $500,000 to fend off Schwartz, had about $220,000 left.

But the intrigue lies in how much either party and their respective allies will spend on the race.

The Congressional Leadership Fund has banked about $1 million in future Las Vegas advertising buys to potentially target Lee or support Rodimer.

The House Majority PAC, its counterpart on the Democratic side, has spent $6.6 million in local advertising this cycle — including a $2.2 million reservation to be used in support of Lee or 4th District Rep. Steven Horsford if needed.

Lee has denounced the “dark money” political donations from certain nonprofit groups who don’t have to disclose their own donors — money that has been used to criticize her, including the American Action Network’s December advertisements.

But Lee has received support from similar organizations, including some $642,000 in local advertising purchases from Democratic Party-aligned House Majority Forward.

Asked if she viewed this as a necessary evil given the money spent against her, Lee said that she supported a House bill to remove dark money from politics and she has continued to work hard to raise her own money and run her own campaign.

Rodimer was undeterred by the fundraising advantage, once again pointing to his defeat of Schwartz, who mostly self-funded and outspent him by nearly $200,000.

Trump effect?

The general election will differ from the primaries in that the 3rd District’s 110,000 nonpartisan voters, as well as tens of thousands of third-party members, will have a say.

It’s unclear what effect Independent American Edward S. Bridges II, Libertarian Steve Brown and nonpartisan Gary Crispin — all of whom moved on to the general election unopposed — will have on the race. However, Independent Americans and Libertarians have traditionally pulled votes from conservatives who might otherwise have supported a Republican if not given the choice.

Whether the top of the ticket — Trump’s re-election bid against presumptive nominee former Vice President Joe Biden — will be a major factor in the contested 3rd District also remains to be seen.

“It’s clearly going to have an impact across the country, but I am going to continue to campaign on my experience, accomplishments and 25 years of deep ties to this community,” Lee said. Before running for Congress, she was the founding director of the After-School All Stars and president of Communities in Schools, which works to prevent students from dropping out.

She said Rodimer showed during the primary he would march in lockstep with Trump and the Republican Party.

Rodimer said he supported the president and, in turn, accused Lee of allegiance to Pelosi. He stressed his primary goal in running is providing an independent voice for the district.

These answers seem to provide a clear blueprint for the next four months of campaigning in the tough swing district: Attempt to tie your opponent to that candidate’s polarizing leader while proclaiming your own independence.

^

Contact Rory Appleton at rappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Trump Pushing for Reopening Schools and In-Person Learning - Video
Donald Trump launched an effort on Wednesday to reopen schools across the United States with in-person learning.
Special session to tackle $1.2B budget deficit in special session Wednesday - VIDEO
Closing the state’s $1.2 billion budget hole will be the prime focus of the upcoming special legislative session that will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Carson City, according to a proclamation issued by Gov. Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lawmakers to tackle $1.2B budget deficit in special session Wednesday - VIDEO
Closing the state’s $1.2 billion budget hole will be the prime focus of the upcoming special legislative session that will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Carson City, according to a proclamation issued by Gov. Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Democratic leaders resign
Several key Clark County Democratic Party leaders have resigned as progressive leadership has swelled in recent months.
Dream Big Nevada celebrates DACA ruling - VIDEO
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections under DACA for 650,000 young immigrants. Astrid Silva, founder of Dream Big Nevada, discusses the temporary victory and the next step for Dreamers.
Councilwoman Michele Fiore walks out of city council meeting - Video
Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore walks out of a City Council meeting during public comments.
Mitt Romney marches in Washington, D.C., protest - Video
On Sunday, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah joined a group of protesters marching through Washington, D.C. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada gyms, bars that do not serve food can reopen Friday - VIDEO
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday evening said Phase 2 of the state’s Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery will begin on Friday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Rep. Horsford admits to having affair - VIDEO
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford admitted to having an affair with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. Linder detailed her account of the affair in a podcast she called, "Mistress for Congress." (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak says businesses will begin reopening under phase 1 - VIDEO
The first phase of reopening Nevada’s businesses will begin Saturday, May 9, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden denies Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation - VIDEO
The former senate aide claims Biden assaulted her in 1993 when he was a senator. Biden first denied the accusations via a public post on Medium. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ interview with Sisolak on the reopening plan for Nevada - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on the plan for reopening Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak reacts to Goodman CNN interview- VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman repeated her call to immediately reopen businesses during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, leading to a reaction from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak praises Nevadans for staying at home, saving lives - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday it’s still too early to know when the state’s COVID-19 shutdown orders could be lifted or when businesses could start to reopen their doors. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump gives governors 3-phase approach to open US - VIDEO
President Donald Trump declared victory in America’s war against the “invisible enemy” as the president’s Coronavirus Task Force released “Opening up America Again” guidelines. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump names Jacky Rosen to task force on reopening economy - VIDEO
President Donald Trump named Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to be a member of his Opening Up America Again Congressional Group Thursday to advise him on coronavirus policy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president - VIDEO
On April 13, former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his official endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
1.3M apply for jobless aid as layoffs remain high

More than 1.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a historically high pace that shows that many employers are still laying people off in the face of a resurgent coronavirus.

Defense leaders face grilling on use of military in unrest

The Pentagon’s top leaders are going before Congress on Thursday for the first time in months to face a long list of controversies, including their differences with President Donald Trump over the handling of protests near the White House last month during unrest triggered by the killing of George Floyd in police hands.