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Anti-abortion resolution may complicate Nevada GOP races

Updated February 2, 2023 - 6:31 am

With the Republican National Committee doubling down on passing anti-abortion legislation in states and at the federal level, could the future success of Republican candidates in the battleground state of Nevada be at risk?

On Friday the Republican National Committee passed a resolution to “go on offense in the 2024 election cycle” on abortion and to “urge Republican lawmakers” in both the state and in Congress to “pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible,” such as laws that acknowledge the “beating hearts and experiences of pain in the unborn.”

The resolution could make it more difficult for Republican candidates in Nevada, similar to when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a 15-week nationwide abortion ban two months before the 2022 midterms, said Amy Tarkanian, a TV political pundit and strategist who is also the former chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party.

“Everyone was scratching their head at the timing of the proposal,” Tarkanian said. “It’s a state issue, we left it up to the states. I think it did hurt some of the candidates.”

In Nevada, abortion rights were enshrined by a vote of the people in 1990, and can’t be changed except by a subsequent vote, not by a vote of the Legislature, Tarkanian said, so it is a shortsighted wish by the Republican National Committee to hope Republican legislators in Nevada can succeed in passing anti-abortion legislation.

“Even if you’re a Republican who is pro-life, your job is to educate the voters that that’s how it came to be here in Nevada,” Tarkanian said.

Strong pro-life candidates lost in Nevada

In the 2022 midterms, most Republicans who espoused strong anti-abortion rhetoric lost their races in Nevada, while Republican candidates such as Gov. Joe Lombardo — who charted a middle course during his campaign, saying he’d govern through a “pro-life lens” but also saying he’d keep an executive order to protect women from other states who seek abortions in Nevada — eked out victories.

Anti-abortion Republicans running for Congress promised to uphold Nevada’s abortion protections, saying the issue should be left up to the states, but even with that strategy, all of those candidates lost their races.

Nevadans’ attitudes toward abortion are complex, said UNLV politics associate professor Dan Lee, but the majority do support abortion protections to some degree. The level of support starts to decrease by trimester, with fewer Nevadans supporting abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy, he said. National polls mirror those attitudes.

The Republican National Committee’s resolution states that polling consistently shows that a majority of Americans “support national, state, and local limits on abortion.” In Nevada, however, polls show the majority support some access to abortion.

A 2021 poll conducted by nonpartisan OH Predictive Insights found that 69 percent of Nevada voters favor abortion rights, while 31 percent oppose. In 1990, 63.5 percent of Nevada voters approved the referrendum permitting abortion up to 24 weeks.

“This resolution may backfire, especially in a state like Nevada, if the Republican candidates don’t do a great job with their messaging,” Tarkanian said.

Melissa Clement, executive director of Nevada Right to Life, thinks the resolution will have a positive impact and help Republican candidates in Nevada get elected.

“I think it will help,” Clement said. “It clearly lays out the difference between Republicans and Democrats, who just want abortion at all costs.”

Clement said she would support a federal ban on abortion, but would also like to see it worked out at a state level.

History of libertarianism and support

Especially in a state that has historically pushed against government influence, the GOP’s strategy to go on the offense with abortion could further hurt Republicans’ chances of winning races in Nevada.

When Nevada was founded in 1864, residents had a goal of making money and being left alone, said Michael Green, an associate professor in UNLV’s Department of History who teaches history courses on Nevada and Las Vegas. That small-government ethos is why the Legislature meets biennially, why the governor had limited powers and why the state only had three supreme court justices, Green said.

“Nevada has maintained a fair amount of that attitude,” Green said, “Admittedly the people who voice it tend to be more in rural Nevada.”

Not always walking the walk

While Nevadans have a history of “talking the talk” with keeping the government out of its business, they do not always “walk the walk,” Green said.

About 20 years ago, for instance, Nevada passed a law defining marriage as being between only a man and a woman, legislation that was not considered libertarian, Green said. Similarly, it is possible for anti-choice legislation, that is not necessarily libertarian, to make headway in Nevada.

He pointed to a comic strip the Review-Journal ran years ago called Bloom County, in which Opus the Penguin was studying to be a farmer and had to learn how to say two sentences: one about keeping those “goobers from Washington” out of his business and the other about where his federal subsidy check is.

“Nevada’s federal officials, and to some degree state officials, have always had to do this dance, and they are not unique, where they are determined to reduce the size of government but also make sure we get goodies, or as they used to say, pork,” Green said.

Moderates don’t always win

The RNC’s resolution might have some parallels to the GOP’s immigration policy, Lee said. In the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romeny lost, the RNC did a post mortem analysis and concluded that the party needed to take a more moderate position on immigration to appeal to the growing Latino population as a way to win elections, Lee said.

“But Trump took the opposite track and ended up winning the presidential election,” Lee said. “Maybe that is the playbook that the RNC is taking. Moderation doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to win.”

In the gubernatorial race in 2022, however, the Nevada Republican Party’s central committee endorsed the more conservative candidate, Joey Gilbert, but the more moderate candidate, Clark County Sheriff, Joe Lombardo won the primary in the end.

“In a way this is the RNC signaling these are the types of candidates they’d like to see win,” Lee said. “It will embolden more conservative candidates to run. But will they be able to win their primaries?”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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