By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers
A day after announcing he would not run for Nevada governor in 2022, U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei said on Nevada Newsmakers Tuesday that the eventual Republican gubernatorial nominee will face a major obstacle trying to defeat current Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak because of the influence of gaming — Nevada’s No. 1 industry.
“First of all, I would be surprised to see gaming, with their history, go against the sitting incumbent governor,” Amodei, R-Carson City, told host Sam Shad. “And the only time we could think about that was Jim Gibbons (2007-11), the one time in modern times.
“So as we sit here and we say, ‘We need a new governor.’ I agree. But guess what? By the time November of 2022 rolls around, unless there is another big whatever (crisis), The Strip will be back in business and everybody that wants a shot will get it, but there are some land mines there about forcing people to get a shot.”
So far, the GOP primary has attracted six candidates: Former U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore, businessman Guy Nohra, and Reno lawyer Joey Gilbert.
When Shad mentioned potential gaming support for Lombardo, Amodei said:
“First of all, the casinos don’t have a history of bucking an incumbent governor. I mean, let’s be real.”
Amodei then suggested Sisolak, a former chairman of the Clark County Commission, remembers those who don’t support him.
“Let me put it this way: This administration, at the state level, Gov. Sisolak is not famous of living and lettin’ live,” Amodei said. “And so, you can say whatever you want. But quite frankly, … I’m not trying to do an ad for someone but these are political realities.”
The Nevada Republican Party is not as united as it needs to be to help push a GOP challenger over the top of a Democratic incumbent, Amodei said.
“People say why did you decide what you decided?” he said about not running for governor. “Listen, you need a unified Republican Party, ain’t there yet. You need some fiscal support, you don’t need as much if you use it smart but quite frankly, the history and the people involved in this race is not, ‘We use our money smart.'”
Amodei, however, thinks a Republican could still win the race.
“Yes I do, but you are not going beat Steve Sisolak — since you asked my opinion — you are not going to beat Steve Sisolak by running a traditional campaign where you go tell everyone what a jerk he is. OK? I believe we can do better.”
The Republican gubernatorial candidate must have a plan how to overcome the Democrats’ overwhelming lead in voter registration, especially in Clark County, Amodei said. Democrats outnumber Republicans by 98,000 voters statewide and by almost 170,000 in Clark County, according to October 2021 statistics from Nevada’s Secretary of State.
“So it is one of those things where if you think you are going to beat an incumbent Democratic governor in the Democrat-registered state, I mean for all planning purposes, Nevada is a blue state,” Amodei said.
“And so when Donald Trump ran into a 100,000-vote wall in Clark County in 2016 and 2020, that is nothing against the President but it is like, hey, if you don’t have a plan of how you are going to do that, then guess what? Have a nice day with your campaign. You are not going to get sworn in.”
Amodei said he could soon rise up in the ranks of Congress if Republicans take the majority in the U.S. House in 2022, when citing reasons for not entering the gubernatorial primary. He is also wary about the crowded primary field.
“Lord knows, this primary is shaping up, for Republicans, to be, quite frankly, elbows and whatever, which is maybe nothing new but it just didn’t seem like the responsible thing to do with the responsibility (as a congressman) that you’ve got,” Amodei said.
“The other part of that is, if you get re-elected (to Congress), if Republicans take control of the (U.S.) House, there’s some musical chairs that go on where I may, if through no fault of my own, be in position to be a subcommittee chairman on Appropriations (Committee), which is good news for Nevada.”
Amodei commented on five of the six GOP gubernatorial candidates.
Heller will be a tough out in the primary, if good people are running his campaign, Amodei said.
“If Dean can get back to being Dean, then you know he will be strong,” Amodei said.
Amodei was also critical of November, Inc., Heller’s former consulting agency headed by longtime Nevada consultant Mike Slanker.
Amodei noted Slanker is now working for Lombardo’s campaign.
“His consultant for 20 years, with millions of dollars (spent), is now running ads telling you what a jerk Dean Heller is,” Amodei said. “It’s like, so you worked for this guy for 20 years and now you’re running ads saying he was a jerk the whole time? That’s the C word. That’s credibility. And by the way, I think it’s great he’s not doing that anymore (work with Heller). I’ll just say, look at the Rosen campaign.”
Heller was defeated by Democratic congresswoman Jacky Rosen in Nevada’s 2018 U.S. Senate election.
Amodei is not impressed with Lombardo’s campaign so far.
“The early rollout looks like the typical, ‘Let’s go bash the other person,'” Amodei said. “In other words, it’s like, ‘I want you to vote for me because you should hate everybody else, as opposed to, ‘If you’ve got strengths, basically highlight those strengths.”
Amodei said Lombardo should take issues head on, such as: “Defunding (police), Second Amendment, sanctuary county, just to name a few.”
“I don’t think you can go out there and say, ‘Let’s just hope they forget all of that and I’ve got some money and a consultant who everyone thinks is … whatever,” Amodei said. “It’s like you are going to have to come with more than that.”
He added that Lombardo, “at least right now, and it is early, but at least right now, he’s not off to a lightning start on coalescing Clark County Republicans behind you.”
On Fiore, Amodei said: “We’ll see, there are five months before signups, and eight months (before the primary election). I’m not ruling anyone out. Michele has got some history, she has been around the block and stuff like that. So she should very well be taken seriously.”
Amodei suggested some GOP candidates might have a difficult time getting behind another candidate if they lose the primary.
“Primaries are good things. Everybody should have their say,” Amodei said. “But it’s not new, how do you come together behind your candidate after the voters have picked?”
Amodei noted that the GOP candidates wanted to get an early start on the campaign.
“…They wanted to start early,” he said. “So OK, start early. But if we are just going to have a longer run of, ‘Everybody sucks and therefore vote for me,’ I just don’t think that is a recipe for success in the general (election) voting.”
Reno’s Joey Gilbert has earned a following, Amodei said.
“It looks like a real campaign to me. And quite frankly, he’s hit a nerve with a lot of Republicans in a positive way, and so it’s one of those things,” Amodei said. “I don’t know what his plan is but quite frankly, there are people who are excited about him.”
North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee must overcome that fact that he’s been a Democrat as the NLV mayor and former state senator, Amodei said.
“John is a work in progress and we’ll see what his message is,” Amodei said. “John’s biggest thing is, ‘Hey, you were a lifelong D and now you’ve changed.”
Shad pointed out Lee was a Republican earlier in his life.