Nevada’s Political Parties: Divisions in the Democratic Party and Republican Caucus, Rise of the Independent Party

What Political Party is Nevada?

Nevada is often viewed as a bellwether state. Its favored Democratic Party holds both U.S. Senate seats and the governor’s mansion.

But the state’s once formidable machine is riven by divisions that could ripple nationally. Last weekend, pro-Bernie Sanders aides ousted establishment figures from the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party

A few snafus in a party with a storied history of civility and cohesion have triggered a schism. After Whitmer and a slate of insurgent progressives were elected to party leadership positions, a group of longtime allies of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quit the state party en masse and transferred a significant sum of money to Nevada Democratic Victory, a new entity housed within the Washoe County Democratic Party that bypassed the state party.

Despite the fracas, state Democrats have maintained their hegemony in Clark County, which hosts Las Vegas and some of the state’s most liberal communities, and a three-way split in the state legislature. They also hold all three competitive U.S. congressional seats and have a strong hold on the state controllership, governorship and lieutenant governorship.

But national Democrats aren’t taking anything for granted in the complex swing state. They know that the Sanders wing of the party isn’t going away, and they’re worried that it will take Democratic control of the state to a test.

The Republican Party

The state’s Republican Party is holding a caucus, which could give the presidential candidates a boost. But the move is drawing criticism from those concerned it will confuse voters and tilt the scales toward former President Donald Trump.

The caucus is being overseen by state Republican Chairman Michael McDonald, who has deep ties to Trump and his base in the GOP. He and others in the party hierarchy acted as fake presidential electors for Trump in 2020. McDonald has also visited Mar-a-Lago.

Some conservatives say that with so many delegates at stake, the Nevada Republican Party is playing a dangerous game. They worry that other presidential candidates might bypass the caucus and instead run in a primary, which would allow them to collect more early votes and show their electability among a larger pool of voters. A primary election would offer early and absentee voting and same-day registration, which typically broadens participation. That would be a big loss for the party and its donors.

The Silver Party

Nevada’s small size, low advertising costs and concentrated populations make it a popular target for national and state-level political groups. Both sides are spending heavily in the state, with Romney front-groups Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity making large ad buys to soften Obama’s attacks on Berkley and Reid’s front-group Patriot Majority doing the same to bolster Heller’s campaigns.

The imbroglio has raised questions about how to maneuver in the critical 2024 cycle without further fracturing the Democratic Party. For veterans of the Reid machine, those questions center on how to manage a state party that has become increasingly liberal and independent of Democratic leaders in Washington. For Sanders followers, the questions focus on whether it’s worth taking control of state parties at all. For the moment, Sisolak and her allies have the upper hand, but their dominance could quickly erode if the party continues to struggle in Nevada. Fortunately, AB 126 of the 2021 legislative session established presidential preference primaries in the state, potentially allowing Nevada to leapfrog Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential nominating process.

The Independent Party

A small political party in Nevada, the Independent Party is best known for gaining national attention when Cliven Bundy, of the Bundy standoff fame, spoke at its convention in 2018. The Independent Party has a stronghold around Elko and often runs full slates that see more success there than other parts of the state. In the 2022 Reno mayoral race, the party nominated Joaquin Roces, a National Alliance on Mental Illness employee who ran on a platform of increasing homeless outreach, expanding funding for the fire department and cutting casino subsidies. He finished a distant eighth with just 1.35% of the vote.

But the Independent Party’s rise reflects the growing division among Democrats along ideological and generational lines. The Sanders wing of the national party hasn’t faded away, and the drama in Nevada suggests it will continue to resurface. Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the No Labels campaign has qualified for ballot status in Nevada as a minor party.

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