Nevada Democrats implode over party control battle End-shutdown

A fierce power struggle has erupted over who will lead the Democratic Party in Nevada, a pivotal 2024 battleground that last year determined the balance of the Senate.

And it’s getting ugly.

There Are calls for the chairs to sit resignation. There are allegations that Democratic Party chair Judith Whitmer contracts directed to allies. Two opposing sides accuse each other of trying to fracture the party.

And new documents obtained by NBC News show the depth of the split and how it played out in the run-up to one of the closest Senate races in the nation.

Whitmer, part of a list of Democratic socialists who took over the party in March 2021, now he’s struggling to hold on ahead of his March 4 re-election, where he faces a challenge from a Nevada state assemblywoman Daniele Munroe Moreno.

“They’re launching a smear campaign against me, personally,” Whitmer said in an interview with NBC News.

A central part of the drama over Whitmer’s tenure has been the decision of a group of former party leaders. to, a few months after he took office, break away from his control and form a rival Democratic entity in Washoe County called Nevada Democratic Victory. It essentially became a shadow party apparatus with aides tied to more established Democrats in the state, including Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen.

Now, internal party documents obtained by NBC News describe how heated that battle became and what steps the Whitmer-controlled party structure considered to return to that fact.

The documents lay out a lobbying campaign before an ultimately abandoned plan to drive Washoe County Democrats out of the state party, including a desire to hit back at the party’s own senator. although a close re-election race that was instrumental in Democratic control of the Senate that year.

“Release loyalists at CCM et al,” read one of the list items in the document, in an apparent reference to Cortez Masto.

The January 2022 document, titled “Washoe Week Timeline,” details a day-by-day plan to mount a media relations campaign in an attempt to force Washoe County Democrats to operate under the structure of state party power. He also considered a legal avenue to delist the group, which would have meant it would no longer be affiliated with the state party and would have created obstacles to how Nevada Democratic Victory could raise and spend money.

“Issues for communications (i.e. very good, we are protecting the existence of the party from being taken over by a rogue county committee, all efforts to work with elected officials failed because NDV and CCM told them not to even talk with us),” the document said. . Then marking the names of elected officials, including then-Governor Steve Sisolak, the notes read: “Can we find 25 loyalists,” they wrote. [sic] email CCM, Sisolak, Ford, Yeager, Nicole why they are splitting the party.”

In the end, Whitmer’s group did not carry out the plan. But the document exemplified the deep divisions within a party at war with itself and exposed tensions after the establishment lost its presidential bid to a slate of Socialist Democrats in 2021.

Both Whitmer and a party spokesman confirmed the documents, but said they reflect a recollection of a conversation with a lawyer about possible ways to deal with an entity for which the party had responsibility but no oversight.

Still, establishment Democrats charge that the state party sometimes worked against them in last year’s midterm elections, including endorsing a top challenger to the incumbent lieutenant governor.

“The State Party created additional challenges for the governor’s reelection,” Molly Forgey, Steve Sisolak’s former deputy campaign manager, said in a statement to NBC News. “They actively worked against the coordinated campaign supported by elected officials and national committees, they campaigned against the governor’s appointed lieutenant. Governor, and used their limited resources to pay their allies instead of generating Democratic voters.”

Sisolak lost his re-election for governor. He was the only sitting governor to lose re-election in 2022. A top aide to his running mate, former Lt. government Lisa Cano Burkhead, echoed Forgey’s sentiment.

“Chairwoman Whitmer not only actively worked against our campaign by publicly endorsing our top challenger, but she even diverted critical resources from the state party to fund campaign ads in support of our opponent,” said Martin Fitzgerald, former senior counsel for the Burkhead’s campaign, in a statement: “These actions alone are disqualifying and demonstrate a willingness to put their own interests ahead of those of a united Democratic Party.”

Whitmer disputed charges that he tried to undermine Nevada Democratic Victory’s coordinated campaign and specifically rejected the idea that he had worked against Cortez Masto.

“It’s so strange to hear that. I haven’t worked against them,” Whitmer said.

He said the documents reflected notes taken by a former employee and he did not recall discussing a plot against Cortez Masto.

“We were talking about the steps that needed to be taken to protect the state party based on the advice of our lawyers,” he said.

He singled out the other side for being divisive and accused them of being motivated by consultants and special interests who want to profit from politics.

But Whitmer’s critics go beyond traditional party members; she has also lost the support of some of her initial backers, including local democratic socialists and the team of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Whitmer defended his tenure, saying he worked diligently to bolster votes and candidates on the ballot in rural counties.

Whitmer has also come under scrutiny for contracts he awarded to Clark County President Chris Roberts, a supporter who also identifies as a Democratic socialist. Whitmer has said the contracts were for legitimate data and technology services.

Democrats critical of Whitmer have questioned both Roberts’ competency and his commitment to party leaders other than Whitmer, pointing to a comment he made on Election Day last year, just hours before voting closed.

At the time, he told NBC News, “I don’t think the numbers are there” for a Cortez Masto win. He said his comments were based on the party data specialist’s “every scenario” model.

The projection did not match other data models, and ultimately Cortez Masto won by fewer than 8,000 votes.

Cortez Masto’s campaign was alarmed. In one of the closest Senate races in the country, one that ultimately determined the balance of the Senate, a Democrat in Nevada was declaring to the media that the senator no longer had a path to victory. It was not what he was watching his campaign at the time, according to an aide.

In an interview, Roberts said that the tug-of-war between the sides showed that “mistakes were made on both sides”.

“It’s a fucking shame,” he added.

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