Power Struggle Within Nevada Democratic Party Leads to Resignation of Chairwoman

Clark County Nevada Democratic Party Chairwoman Resigns

For a moment last week, it looked like Joe Biden might have enough electoral votes to win the presidency. Then election officials started counting outstanding ballots in Clark county.

The result has been a power struggle that has pitted two sparring factions against each other. One of the sides is a major labor union.

The Party’s Vision

Not long after Judith Whitmer won the Democratic nomination to be Nevada’s party chair, she got an email. The executive director of the state party told her that she and every other employee — including all of the consultants — were leaving.

Unlike traditional party leaders, Whitmer’s backers were organized grassroots groups like the Clark County Left Caucus and local DSA chapters that had been active in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. They had also worked to boost down ballot candidates in rural areas of the state, where Republican margins are far higher than in urban centers like Las Vegas and Washoe County.

But the group’s members felt that Whitmer was too eager to snuff out disagreement and was not effective at building coalitions. In the end, they split with her to form a new group called Nevada Democratic Victory. Their goal is to support more centrist candidates like former Gov. Steve Sisolak and U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, while also focusing on down-ballot races.

Its Mission

The fracas over Nevada Democratic Party leadership underscores how a once-unified progressive movement in the state has been divided over the future of its state party. The clash between the Sanders wing and the establishment comes as state Democratic leaders prepare for the 2024 election cycle.

Clark County, the heart of Las Vegas and home to a majority of Nevada’s population, is a powerful force for statewide Democrats. Its wide margins help offset Republican strength in the state’s other regions, including Washoe County and a collection of rural counties known as the Rurals.

Cortez Masto’s ability to outperform Sisolak in these other regions was crucial for her reelection victory. She was able to cut into the GOP’s margins in those areas because she is well connected outside of Las Vegas, having developed relationships over three terms as an attorney general and two years as governor. In addition, she was not swayed by President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

Its Goals

With election day over, Democrats are now facing the next phase of Nevada’s political drama: party leadership elections. Chairwoman Judith Whitmer, who won two years ago on a slate of Bernie Sanders supporters, is running for reelection but faces a tough challenge from Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno.

Both women have endorsed Kamala Harris for president, but their differing approaches to the state party are the source of much of the friction. Monroe-Moreno is a moderate who has backed progressive policies such as lowering the minimum wage, supporting same-sex marriage and expanding abortion rights. She has a softer tone than Whitmer and has been endorsed by a majority of Democratic elected officials. But her campaign has been rocked by allegations that she deleted members of the state party’s left caucus and Democratic Socialists of America chapters from a central committee, a move that irked some union activists. The deleted members included leaders of Culinary Union Local 226, which has more than 60,000 members and operates several Vegas casinos.

Its Future

While the Democratic Party’s national fortunes may be dim, local voters in Nevada are still hoping to turn around a decade of economic decline. But, as the state’s most populous county, a lot of Clark County residents aren’t sure they can afford to keep the lights on.

As the state’s top Democrats prepare for 2024, they face several challenges. The most pressing is repairing their relationship with the Democratic base, including a growing number of progressives.

To do so, progressive groups like the Left Caucus and local DSA chapters organized a slate of candidates for state party leadership. They dubbed their team “The NV Dems Progressive Slate,” and all but one of the candidates was a dues-paying member of a DSA chapter. The results were a setback for the party establishment and a boon for progressive activists. But it’s not too late to repair the rift. The central committee’s purged members—who represented more than 40% of the panel’s membership—will meet Saturday to choose new leaders and see the party through the next cycle.