Silver State gets glimpse of possible 2020 matchup

At a vendor’s table, delegates at the Nevada Democratic Convention shopped for T-shirts and tote bags bearing various party messages, plus shirts touting Jacky Rosen for U.S. Senate.

At a vendor’s table, delegates at the Nevada Democratic Convention shopped for T-shirts and tote bags bearing various party messages, plus shirts touting Jacky Rosen for U.S. Senate.


Column note

Two years ago, the Nevada Democratic Party Convention was a tense affair, at which rank-and-file members believed party leaders were using their control of the proceedings to undermine their chosen presidential candidate. The in-fighting was so fierce party leaders called it a “riot” (“The riot that never was,” RN&R, May 26, 2016).

Little had changed by this past weekend, as Democrats convened again, with supporters of defeated candidate for governor Chris Giunchigliani angry that party leaders—specifically, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus—threw their support to moneyed conservative Steve Sisolak, who then trashed Giunchigliani without protest from Reid or Titus.

Two days before the convention began, Giunchigliani sent out a thank-you message to her supporters. It did not endorse Sisolak, but did close with this paragraph:

“Our fight is not done yet. [Republican nominee] Adam Laxalt can never become the governor of Nevada, or anywhere else he might decide to move to run for office. And we have some terrific women running this year that need our help. Like Jacky Rosen, Kate Marshall and Susie Lee. And we will strive to achieve veto-proof majorities in the legislature, so in the worst case scenario, Adam Laxalt’s dangerous agenda is blocked.”

Not all of her supporters got the message. “There are worse things than a Republican as governor,” said one at the convention. “One of them is an unprincipled Democrat.” No one we spoke with except one teacher talked of actually voting for Laxalt, but some did say they will skip the governor’s race on the ballot.

In the 2016 election, so many voters found the Trump/Clinton choice unpalatable that 1.7 million voters in 33 states went to the polls but skipped voting in the presidential race, an unusual number of “undervotes,” as they are called. There were actually more undervotes than that in the nation, but some states do not provide the numbers needed to know the total.

Both surviving major party candidates for governor remain little known. In the north, Sisolak faces an electorate that voted for his opponent in the primary. He spent so little time in the north that its voters generally know two things about him—how he conducted himself in the primary election and that he supported the Raiders corporate welfare, neither of which is likely to incline voters to his candidacy.

A southern delegate at the convention said, “I’m going to vote for Dina, but I’m not going to work for her again after the way she repaid Chris.” This was a reference to the fact that in 2011, when Titus announced her comeback race for the U.S. House after losing the governorship, Giunchigliani endorsed her before the day was out.

A beneficiary of the enduring ill feeling is Jacky Rosen, the party’s U.S. Senate nominee. Reluctant to aid Sisolak, Giunchigliani’s supporters find helping Rosen more congenial.

If there was a remedy for the demoralized delegates, it was on the program—U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who spoke and brought the Democrats to their feet more than once telling them about how, as a young girl, she had laid awake nights listening to her mother crying from the financial strains imposed by unemployment—until the day she got a minimum wage job at Sears. In those days, Warren said, minimum wage could support an entire family. Today, “it won’t keep a mother and a baby out of poverty. … You bet it’s personal.”

Warren, once a law professor specializing in commercial law, left the Republican Party when she believed it was tilting the economic system against everyday citizens. She and her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi are the authors of The Two Income Trap (2002) which deals with how middle class families can no longer get by on one income. Before her Senate election, Warren was recruited by Sen. Reid to chair the Congressional Oversight Panel on the 2008 economic meltdown.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s message was one Nevada Democrats wanted to hear.


Warren recalled to the Democrats in Reno that Nevada had the worst home foreclosure rate in the nation in the Great Recession. Bank of America and other mega-corporations, she said, “brought this state to its knees with their lying and cheating.”


That fit in well with Warren’s recent effort to portray the Trump administration as deeply corrupt, akin to Gary Hart’s 1984 “sleaze factor” description of the myriad Reagan administration scandals.

The current edition of the New Yorker magazine carries an article on Warren describing the way federal regulation saves lives while lobbyist pressure to reduce regulations threatens “the parts of the government that keep lead out of toys, insecticide out of medicine, and bad brakes out of cars.” The administration, with little news coverage, has been revoking numerous federal regulations. It is reminiscent of the financial deregulation that took place under President Clinton and a Republican Congress, leading to the 2008 meltdown that brought Warren into public life. It has even been happening at the relatively new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Warren helped create to protect investors from the financial institutions that grew too big to be allowed to fall in 2008, and which are now still bigger—banks, investment houses, lenders.

In her Reno remarks, the Massachusetts senator condemned Donald Trump, who was also in Nevada on this day, at the Nevada Republican convention in Las Vegas. This section of her speech seemed to resonate with delegates, particularly young ones. Trump, Warren said, has a policy of “inflicting pain … hatefulness, ugliness and cruelty.”

“Everything about him is pessimistic,” said one young Democrat. “He never offers hope. His leadership is entirely negative. It’s nice to hear someone talk about us as a community.”

Warren said after Trump is gone, it will likely fall to the Democratic Party to clean up the deregulated mess he leaves behind.

After a litany of things for which she said Democrats need to keep fighting, Warren tantalized the crowd with her close: “I’m going up that hill, and I need you with me every step of the way.”

If there was a second factor that could get Democrats to move beyond their ire at party leaders, it is the unwitting unifier Trump has become to the Democratic Party.

With the entire nation talking about separation of children from parents on the border, Trump in Nevada ignored the issue and instead fired insults at Warren, Rosen and John McCain, giving the New York Times reason to run the headline “Elizabeth Warren Condemned Trump in Reno. He Answered in Las Vegas With a Slur.”

When Trump referred to Rosen as “Wacky Jacky,” she issued a statement saying in part, “Is that the best you’ve got?”

The border separations have reduced the risk migrant issues pose to Democrats by making migrants more sympathetic and increasing the chances of good Latino voter turnout. Previously, party workers feared the threat from issues like sanctuary cities and the possibility of a sanctuary-related ballot measure in Nevada. Migrant-bashing by figures like GOP lieutenant governor candidate Michael Roberson do not now carry the same punch that it did a month ago—particularly since Roberson’s planned ballot measure hit legal roadblocks.

High or low turnout in the Latino community has often played a role in Democratic Party fortunes, as with Reid’s final reelection (high), a statewide Republican sweep in 2014 (low), and Hillary Clinton’s presidential victory in the state (high). Trump has done more to motivate Latino turnout than any politician since former California governor Pete Wilson, whose anti-migrant Proposition 187 on that state’s 1994 ballot bequeathed to the GOP a generation of Latino hostility.