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The two Dans: Schwartz and Rodimer top Republicans challenging Lee

After a clear victory in a tough 2018 campaign, Democratic freshman Rep. Susie Lee is once again a target as both parties turn their interest — and already hundreds of thousands of dollars — to Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District.

Lee enters the 2020 cycle in a strong position, with incumbency and majority party control at her back and $1.9 million in the bank. The Democratic registration advantage in the 3rd District has improved from less than 6,000 active registered voters in March 2018 to more than 15,000 in March 2020, and shelter-in-place orders have limited all challengers’ ability to overcome name recognition through face-to-face campaigning.

But the GOP is coming for the district, which bucked the statewide trend in 2016 by narrowly supporting President Donald Trump. Lee is routinely targeted on impeachment and other Republican-driving issues, with dark money groups from both sides of the aisle already making six-figure ad buys to either attack or defend her.

For now, however, she can sit back and watch as the two leading Republican challengers attack one another in advertisements, emails and public statements. While Lee has several challengers of her own, the fireworks are clearly happening in the Republican primary this cycle.

Susie Lee

In an interview with the Review-Journal, Lee said she is currently spending “95 percent” of her time focused on constituent services during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some 300 calls and emails handled during the week of April 17.

She said the crisis will keep her from regularly campaigning until after the primary, but her staff is continue to make calls to voters and watch the Republican field. She is now asking her donors to instead give to local charities such as Three Square.

“I ran for Congress because I believe we need to do more to make sure everyone has equal access to opportunity,” Lee said.

To that end, she’s pushed legislation to increase access to child care, veterans services and care options for the elderly, Lee said. She also fought against a Trump administration rule that she said forced defrauded students of for-profit universities to hire a lawyer in order to receive refunds on student loans.

Lee is again marketing herself as a moderate who can work with Republicans, noting she got legislation through Congress and signed by Trump. She also joined her fellow members in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to petition her own party leadership to “cut political items” out of the COVID-19 stimulus packages to ensure quicker passage.

She said there is more to be done in the fight for education and health care. If re-elected, she would also attempt to further diversify Nevada’s economy, saying the pandemic has shown the state is still too dependent on gaming and tourism.

Dan Schwartz vs. Dan Rodimer

Former Nevada Treasurer Dan Schwartz has loaned his campaign more than half a million dollars to wage war against fellow Republican Dan Rodimer in their bid to challenge Lee.

Schwartz ran ads calling Rodimer a “criminal” in reference to a 2010 battery arrest and depicting the former professional wrestler as violent. He repeating those statements in an interview, adding that Rodimer also has no government experience.

Rodimer has expressed regret over the arrest and painted himself as a family man, while turning his sights on Schwartz’s record. He claims Schwartz attempted to push illegal taxes on Nevadans, is soft on protecting the Second Amendment, never supported Trump and is pro-abortion.

Rodimer launched an ad this week repeatedly calling Schwartz “a liberal” with many of the same claims.

Schwartz, who in 2015 did propose an airport passenger tax not permitted under law, did so as an alternative to the commerce tax passed under former GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval. He claimed he is pro-Trump, pro-Second Amendment and opposes federal funding for abortions.

Schwartz has raised about $709,000, including his personal loan, and spent about $285,000 of it. Rodimer has raised about $666,000, including a $165,000 personal loan, and spent about $343,000.

In an interview, Schwartz said he is hoping to improve education funding while keeping taxes and spending low. The U.S. Army veteran and business owner said he would also look to modernize the country’s armed forces and Defense Department.

Rodimer, now a small business owner, said in his interview that he, like the president, is running as an outsider. He promised to closely ally with Trump and work to improve education funding and push for economic revival after the pandemic.

He boasts perhaps the largest endorsement of any challenger running for Congress in Nevada in House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and he claims Schwartz is running as his “polar opposite.”

“I am running against someone who is (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi on taxes, (Former New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg on guns and (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) on amnesty for illegal immigrants,” Rodimer said.

Brian Nadell

Nadell, a professional poker player and former Tea Party member who competed in the 2010 Republican primary for U.S. Senate, said he hopes to “come through the back door while Schwartz and Rodimer fight at the front.”

He said he believes closures due to the pandemic are purely political and not for health reasons.

“The governors are doing this just to get rid of Trump,” he said.

Nadell said he is an ardent supporter of the president and would work to help veterans and those with substance abuse issues if elected.

He added that he has calculated he currently has a 14 percent chance to beat Rodimer and Schwartz, and he will do so without a campaign manager or raising money.

Victor Willert

Willert, a retired teacher, is also running in the Republican primary. He said he is trying to raise money but is having difficulty during the pandemic.

Willert said he is running as a less partisan conservative option. He supports more moderate, maybe even progressive policies, such as forgiving student loan debt for public servants and improving Social Security funding.

“Other candidates are just doing the dog-and-pony show, and then they will vote how their party tells them,” he said. “I want to do what’s best for Nevadans.”

Corwin “Cory” Newberry

Newberry, a Republican small business owner in Henderson, said he is running because he is tired of the partisan nature of Congress.

“They can’t get anything done because they’re too overwhelmed with the idea of getting rid of Trump,” he said.

Newberry said health care should be more affordable and climate change should be taken more seriously. He is “not a fan” of gun control, but he conceded that more vetting during gun purchases is a good compromise.

He has yet to report any fundraising.

Mindy Robinson

Robinson, an actress and political commentator, was a late entrant into the Republican primary. She has begun campaigning through a considerable social media following and has about $4,000 in her campaign account.

Robinson did not agree to an interview before this story’s publication deadline.

Dennis Sullivan

Dr. Dennis Sullivan is one of two Democrats challenging Lee in the primary. He said the congresswoman is funded by casinos and cares only about buying the seat.

“I didn’t want her representing me,” Sullivan said. “There’s nothing in her background that makes me want to vote for her other than she’s a Democrat.”

He said Lee has not made significant progress in dealing with gun violence or improving the quality of education.

Sullivan, who is a physician, said the country should be working toward establishing a collective medical record database that any health care provider could update. The system would automatically send information on patients diagnosed with infectious diseases to the Center for Disease Control with personal information omitted, which he said would help the response to future pandemics.

Sullivan is also a U.S. Navy veteran and calling for stricter background checks on firearm purchases, noting that he had to be certified before receiving a gun in the military.

Tiffany Ann Watson

Watson is also challenging Lee in the primary, saying she’s noticed little improvement in the 3rd District after 13 years living there.

Although listed as a Democrat, Watson said she considers herself a strict constitutionalist. She believes the Second Amendment should be protected.

She said her primary goal in running is to secure an independent audit of all government spending. She suspects the tax dollars allocated to things like education and hospital funding are not being properly used.

Three additional candidates will move on to the general election without a primary: Independent American Ed S. Bridges II, Libertarian Steve Brown and nonpartisan Gary Crispin.

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

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