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Nevada Democratic leaders bypass state party for 2022 campaign

The Democratic Party of Washoe County’s executive board voted Tuesday to run the 2022 coordinated campaign supporting Nevada’s top Democrats, usurping a mantle typically held by the Nevada State Democratic Party with the full-throated support of elected leaders and two national Democratic campaign organizations.

“This motion ensures Democrats are able to begin the critical groundwork it takes to win up and down the state next November and has the support of Nevada elected officials as well as national Democratic organizations,” the county party said in a statement.

The move comes after months of lingering rumors that established Democratic party operatives, many who were seasoned in the well-known Democratic power structure created by former Sen. Harry Reid, and the more moderate elected officials whom they serve, would campaign through some sort of rival operation in 2022 after a slate of more liberal progressives won election to the state party’s leadership in March.

“Once again, we find ourselves disappointed but not surprised, but this time it’s regarding an insurgency within our own party instead of in the Republican Party,” Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer said in her own statement Tuesday evening.

“When we were first made aware of these plans, we sounded the alarm: we’re stronger together, and this puts our Democratic incumbents at risk,” Whitmer continued. “The Nevada State Democratic Party was designed to coordinate and win Democratic campaigns and remains the only sanctioned Democratic Party in the state.”

This new coordinated campaign officially launched Wednesday morning as Nevada Democratic Victory.

It will “immediately begin working to register Democratic voters in every corner of Nevada, engage communities across the state to share our message of fighting for working families and hold Republicans accountable for opposing policies designed to get Nevadans through this pandemic and improve our state,” according to a statement provided to the Review-Journal.

“Nevada remains a critical battleground, and maintaining our Democratic majorities in Congress hinges on our success in the Silver State, and we know what it takes to win,” said Molly Forgey, spokeswoman for Nevada Democratic Victory.

Forgey served as the state party’s spokeswoman until the entire staff resigned ahead of the party’s March officer elections. She previously worked for Reid and current Nevada Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen.

Sisolak, Cortez Masto on board

Gov. Steve Sisolak and Cortez Masto, arguably the state’s most powerful elected officials and the top Democrats facing re-election in the 2022 midterms, each gave their support to the Washoe party’s move, as did Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, Nevada state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and the executive directors of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Governors Association.

Although Sisolak, Cortez Masto and other elected officials each maintain their own personal reelection campaigns, the coordinated campaign typically serves as a fundraising and organizing arm for the entire Democratic ticket — as does the state party.

“I want to thank WashoeDEMS Chair Sarah Mahler and the entire WashoeDEMS executive board for their leadership and their commitment to electing Democrats across the state,” Sisolak said in the county party’s statement. “This election cycle couldn’t be more important for Nevada and for the country. Winning in 2022 means we are able to build on the incredible progress we’ve made and ensure our state recovers from this pandemic.”

Sisolak’s portion of the statement is the only one to make mention of the state party.

“We will work together with the state party and county parties in every corner of the state to achieve our shared goal of protecting and expanding on our Democratic success,” he said.

Cortez Masto also specifically thanked Mahler and the county party in its statement.

“Nevada Democrats are focused on making a difference for working families across our state, and we need to start engaging our voters now so we can continue to deliver in 2022 and beyond,” Cortez Masto said. “This will be an incredibly challenging election cycle in Nevada, and organizing statewide, including in our state’s largest swing county, will be key to Democratic victories.”

Sisolak and Cortez Masto are both national targets for Republicans.

Cortez Masto is the only freshman serving on the Senate majority’s leadership team and was on President Joe Biden’s early short list of potential vice presidential nominees. Democrats hold the thinnest of majorities in the Senate, with a 50-50 split and the crucial tie-breaking vote in Vice President Kamala Harris.

Nevada’s three Democrats facing re-election in the House — Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee — are not quoted or mentioned in the WashoeDEMS statement, nor is the national party’s House campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Clashes within party

Just days prior to the state party’s officer elections, outgoing staff transferred $450,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, national Democrats’ official Senate campaign arm, with one former staffer telling the Review Journal the money was raised for supporting Cortez Masto’s re-election and would now serve that purpose.

Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom, whom Whitmer defeated in the state party chair elections, also told the Review-Journal in February he was recruited by Cortez Masto and other elected officials to run. However, Cortez Masto has denied reports she asked Whitmer to drop out of the race.

In her Tuesday evening statement, Whitmer criticized the new plan for the coordinated campaign, but she maintained that the state party will continue fundraising and organizing on behalf of electing Nevada Democrats.

“We saw this strategy fail badly in North Carolina in 2014 when the state party machine, unhappy to have lost power, retreated into the Wake County Democratic Party structure, and it lost Kay Hagan her Senate seat — and Wake County, unlike Washoe County, is a Democratic stronghold,” Whitmer said. “Despite this ill-advised and undemocratic shift to a one-county strategy by some members of the party, we remain confident in our ability to do what we were tasked to do: Elect Democrats to office in the state of Nevada and provide thoughtful leadership on progressive issues.”

After apparent disagreements were kept mostly in-house leading up to the state party’s March elections, Whitmer and the state’s elected officials have since openly clashed on several occasions.

Last month, Whitmer issued a statement criticizing Israel’s role during a week of intense violence with its neighbors. Rosen and Lee publicly condemned the statements. The state party’s treasurer, Howard Beckerman, resigned in protest. Republicans seized on the discord in their own campaign statements.

The state party also issued a public statement in support of Assembly Bill 395, the state’s proposed ban on the death penalty, which was eventually shelved by Sisolak, Cannizzaro and Frierson.

On the campaign front, the state party has yet to issue any sort of statement in support of Titus, who is facing a primary challenge from the left in well-known local progressive advocate Amy Vilela.

While the traditional view of a state party’s role has been that of support structure and little else, Whitmer maintains the organization has a role in pushing progressive policy and holding elected leaders accountable.

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

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