Not winning and not making progress are two different things. Nevada Republicans need to remember that as they reflect upon the 2022 election.
Republicans should be disappointed with the outcomes both nationally and locally. But before demanding radical changes in Nevada, Republicans should recognize that they’ve gained ground. In 2018, they won only one statewide race. This year, they won three, including Joe Lombardo defeating incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak. Nevada leans blue, but it’s now trending away from California. Republicans lowered the voter registration gap from 75,000 in October 2018 to 52,000 currently.
The biggest problem for Republicans in Nevada was the spending disparity. From Congress to the county commission to legislative races, Democrats swamped TVs, radios and mailboxes with ads. Republicans didn’t have the money to keep up. Candidate quality could have been better in some races, but this was the biggest factor.
This was most obvious in the Senate race. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto raised nearly $48 million through mid-October. Laxalt raised $18.6 million this cycle. It’s hard to win being outspent 3-to-1. Super PAC money helped close the gap, but such groups pay substantially more to buy TV ads than candidates.
There will likely be a lot of revisionist history about this race, but Laxalt was the best GOP Senate challenger this cycle. Arizona has more than twice as many people as Nevada. But Laxalt outraised Arizona Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters. Laxalt got closer to victory than Donald Trump did, too. Trump lost Nevada by 2.4 percentage points. Laxalt lost by 0.8 percent.
If GOP Senate candidates nationally had run that far ahead of Trump’s 2020 margin, Republicans would have won Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.
Through mid-October, Gov. Steve Sisolak outspent Lombardo by 3-to-1. But the amounts were smaller, $13.5 million to $4.8 million. Businessman Robert Bigelow also contributed tens millions of dollars to groups helping Lombardo. Without that funding, Lombardo likely loses.
Laxalt is more conservative than Lombardo, but the decisive factor seems to have been voter distaste for Sisolak. Laxalt got more raw votes than Sisolak, while Lombardo got fewer votes than Cortez Masto. Even so, Lombardo probably doesn’t win without Laxalt driving up rural turnout.
Republicans would be fortunate to have as good a candidate as Laxalt run against Sen. Jacky Rosen in 2024. Fundraising is going to matter an awful lot. Nationally, Republicans need to find a way to compete with ActBlue, Democrats’ online fundraising platform. If not, GOP voters should hope an independently wealthy candidate, such as Rick Harrison or Guy Nohra, jumps in the race. In state races, Lombardo needs to lead the way on raising money to help down-ballot candidates.
Laxalt and other Republicans may have won anyway were it not for ballot harvesting. A late surge in mail ballots favored Democrats. Ballot harvesting should be illegal, but until it is, Republicans need to learn how to use it. Collect ballots at churches, gun shops and private schools. Republican leaders need to urge their voters to vote early, too. It’s easier to target low-propensity Republicans if the high-propensity ones bank their votes early.
This is especially important in rural Nevada. It’s possible the Election Day snow depressed turnout in places such as Elko. If Republicans vote early, fluke Election Day circumstances won’t matter as much.
It’s hard to tell how much progress Republicans made with Hispanic voters. But efforts to woo them need to continue. Lombardo would be the natural person to do that, especially as he pushes school choice.
The path forward for Nevada Republicans isn’t tearing it all down. They’ve made progress and must continue the hard work of building upon it.