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STEVE SEBELIUS: Dem party takeover would make Reid proud

One Nevada politico once said they assumed former Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid would be in charge of the Nevada State Democratic Party until he retired, only to realize later he’d remain its chief until he died.

But now, even after Reid’s passing in December 2021, the spirit of Harry Reid still infuses the party through the staff he hand-picked and trained.

The recent, lopsided vote that ousted a progressive slate that took over two years ago in favor of an establishment-backed candidate was a classic Reid operation, flawlessly and meticulously executed.

Reid would have been proud.

The senator was still alive in 2021 when Judith Whitmer and her slate of progressives beat an establishment cadre led by Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom to take over the party apparatus that for most of the last two decades had functioned as the “Reid machine.”

But the machine didn’t miss a beat: It transferred hundreds of thousands in party cash to a Democratic U.S. Senate committee, and the staff resigned en masse and quickly formed a party-in-exile under the Washoe County Democratic Party.

The progressives, having won fair-and-square, cried foul. They planned a “pressure campaign” to get grassroots activists to flood the offices of U.S. senators and other party officials with calls.

It wouldn’t be long, however, before they learned what a real pressure campaign really looked like.

As the March 6 election approached, Whitmer began to see the writing on the wall. And like that writing of antiquity, it spelled out the same message: The days of your reign have been numbered, and your tenure has been weighed and found wanting.

First, Whitmer drew an opponent in Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno, a veteran who chairs the lower house’s most powerful committee, Ways and Means.

Second, Monroe-Moreno got endorsements from pretty much every person in the Democratic establishment, from Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, to constitutional officers, to leaders and members of the Nevada Legislature to a long list of party stalwarts and volunteers. And, for the first time ever, that most critical cog of the Reid machine, Culinary Local 226, endorsed in a party race, backing Monroe-Moreno.

Third, former Gov. Steve Sisolak weighed in, saying Whitmer’s party was partly to blame for his loss in 2022. (While Sisolak’s loss didn’t have much to do with Whitmer, it didn’t help that she spurned Sisolak’s appointed choice for lieutenant governor by backing former Henderson Mayor Debra March for the job.)

Fourth came the news stories, a slow and deliberate evisceration that Whitmer denounced as “a smear campaign.” A decades-old criminal charge from Florida surfaced. Her payments to allies totaling more than $200,000. A Politico report that quoted an anonymous source saying Sen. Bernie Sanders himself was disappointed with Whitmer’s administration. Even the Las Vegas branch of the Democratic Socialists of America — which backed Whitmer in 2021 — withheld an endorsement, saying Whitmer had failed to engage them in her efforts.

Fifth, after the party tried to “purge” more than 40 percent of its membership before the vote ostensibly for missing meetings — including the speaker of the Nevada Assembly, Steve Yeager, D-Las Vegas — calls for Whitmer’s resignation rang out.

It was over. When the votes were finally counted, Monroe-Moreno had won, 314-99. She becomes the first Black woman to head Nevada’s Democratic Party.

But she didn’t do it alone. She had the backing of Nevada’s most experienced political team, people who have proven that they know how to win elections over and over again, people who — even if they lose — never give up.

Although most news coverage of the party fight emphasized ideology — moderate Democrats versus progressive democratic socialists — this was never really about philosophy at all. It was always about the central purpose of a political party: raising money, registering voters, turnout and winning elections.

Harry Reid knew how to do that, born of a long career forged from close victories and hard losses. He passed those lessons on to his team, teaching them winning is the first necessity of all of politics; without it, a political organization is no more than a debate society.

Reid may be gone, but his people, and the people they will train in the future, are very much still here. You’ll know them— once again — by the name Nevada State Democratic Party.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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