By Michael A. Kadenacy
The Nevada Electorate is changing, and if Republicans are to regain their influence and political clout, they must deal with the new reality. To do otherwise will relegate conservative policies to irrelevance.
In past election cycles, Republicans could count on the rural counties
to balance the heavily Democrat Clark County losses, and Washoe
County would decide statewide races. The State Legislative seats were
likewise split between the Parties, with the Republicans holding majority or almost majority positions.
There is a new political party in today’s Nevada -“No Party”. This new electorate identifies as neither Republican nor Democrat, though many of these voters were previously registered as one or the other. In Washoe County, the current makeup of the registered voter is Republicans 107,724, Democrats 107,580, and Non-partisan plus minor parties 103,330. For the most part, political campaigns know very little about this voting bloc and, unfortunately, do not try to understand what issues are important to them. There seems to be a fear that if this voting bloc is engaged, voters contacted might be motivated to vote for the other side.
In most Parliamentary Democracies, there are numerous small parties and, to form governments, negotiation must occur to create a Parliamentary majority. In this way, many voices participate in the government. In the United States, this negotiation and accommodation occur not between small parties but within the two major political parties. In Nevada, the Democrats seem to have brought disparate interest groups together. Republicans have not been as successful.
In this most recent election, it would appear that the Democrat Party cobbled together a coalition of disparate political factions, many of which were at odds with each other, to create a majority. Time will tell if that coalition endures. But Republicans have not yet found the political will to accommodate those with whom they may agree regarding some issues but not all. If Republicans are to regain majorities in Nevada, they must accept that they must find the political courage to build and form those coalitions.
The Big Tent idea is not new, and now more than ever this idea needs to be renewed in Nevada. This is true of the party structure at every level and includes how Republicans conduct campaigns. Each active member of the Republican Party also needs to understand this new reality. A good start would be to look at what we as Republicans believe as core principle. A principle is not the same thing as a platform but is about defining the underlying philosophy rather than policy prescriptions. Why is it that States and Cities/Towns governed by Republicans in almost all cases do better by any measure than those managed by Democrats? Answering that question will give clarity to those principles. If the principles are simple and straightforward, coalitions will come together more easily. The stress should be on what builds consensus among Republicans and not on those things more likely to divide Republicans.
However, there seems to be a trend to apply litmus tests to Republicans that only further divides the party. And, while constant high-volume noise about the last election losses, or the desire to punish an elected Republican for straying may stir up the party’s base, it will certainly not draw more voters to the Republicans. There is a further detriment from intra-party bickering; it drives people to become part of those non-partisans, many of whom disengage from the political process altogether. Nowhere is this clearer than in Nevada.
Republican candidates need to look forward, not back, and accept that almost one-third of the Nevada electorate have disengaged from the political process and address those non-partisan voters in their campaigns and party messaging. Republican candidates must aim their campaigns to address voters within the Party but also expand their campaign to address non-partisans as potential Republican voters.
In this last election cycle, several campaigns in Washoe County illustrate the critical role the non-partisan voter played in both victory and defeat. First, Congressman Amodei won Washoe County by 5000 votes, 121,879, to Akerman’s 116,646. Republican turnout in Washoe was 98,016, and Democrat turnout was 96,478. The accepted statistical norm is that each party’s candidate will receive 95% of their registered voters’ vote. In this case, Congressman Amodei received 28,764 non-partisan votes out of 70,000 who voted, which gave him his victory.
Second, President Trump garnered 116,760 votes to 128,128. Applying the same methodology as with Amodei, President Trump received 23,645 “No Party” votes but Biden received 36,401. The “No Party” was the deciding factor. The Clark County results indicate an even higher “No Party’ vote for Biden than in Washoe.
These two examples strongly suggest that, even with a 100% Republican voter turn-out, there is no route to victory in competitive or statewide races without capturing the “No Party” vote.
The Washoe County Republican Party has, as a core strategy, polled and campaigned in each of their targeted races directly at getting those non-partisans to vote for the Republican candidate. The polling has been used to determine which issues are paramount to this voting bloc and specifically in the precincts of the targeted races. Further, the canvassing methodology is geared to engaging in conversations with voters, not merely asking them confrontational questions. This polling and engagement have proved successful by ensuring Republican wins in targeted races in two election cycles.
But there is more to do to re-engage with those non-partisans. Republicans are often accused of eating their own. In fact, they seem to enjoy attacking each other rather than the other party, usually over what appears to outsiders as something in which the average non-partisan voter has no interest. These quarrels, which generally include personal invectives, reinforce people’s inclination to dis-engage. They drive the very key voting bloc which Republicans need to win to stay away from the polls. We cannot afford to do this any longer.
Republicans can no longer win competitive races in Nevada without a substantial number of non-partisan votes. If Republicans are to regain political power in Nevada, they must, as individuals and as a political party, engage all Republicans and non-partisans and actively court those with whom they may disagree on some issues. As suggested by the specific races mentioned, to do otherwise will relegate the Republican Party to a permanent minority.