Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2015

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Senate race exposes fractures in Republican Party

GOP leaders say the state party firmly backs Sharron Angle against Sen. Harry Reid. But rancorous disputes are evident after Reno Republican state Sen. Bill Raggio last week endorsed Reid

Bill Raggio

Bill Raggio

Sig Rogich

Sig Rogich

Sun coverage

It seems having a polarizing, high-profile Democrat as their top target would unite Nevada Republicans. Instead the state GOP finds itself engaged in internecine attacks over the candidacy of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The intraparty feuding peaked last week with state Sen. Bill Raggio, the Reno Republican and longest-serving state senator in history, endorsing Reid over Republican challenger Sharron Angle.

Angle’s campaign dismissed Raggio, saying it didn’t want the support of a politician who would vote to raise taxes as Raggio had. And the Clark County Republican Party asked its state Senate candidates not to support Raggio’s re-election as the caucus leader, a position he has held since 1987.

That was followed by Sig Rogich, long a party kingmaker and a prominent member of “Republicans for Reid,” exchanging fusillades with former Gov. Bob List, who is Nevada’s Republican national committeeman.

Democrats, to be sure, have had their own share of infighting. But the Republican civil war underscores what the party lacks and Democrats have: an undisputed head of their party, such as Reid, who can impose order.

Republicans, by contrast, have Gov. Jim Gibbons, who was defeated in June’s primary, and Sen. John Ensign, tarnished by his affair with a former employee and his parents’ gift to her family.

Thus, Nevada’s U.S. Senate race is featuring an unprecedented level of Republican infighting.

Although the rancor is unusual, the divisions aren’t. Every two years in Carson City, there’s a simmering tension in the Republican Party over taxes and fiscal issues, as libertarian wing clashes with more centrist members.

Of course, sometimes it just seems personal.

Raggio and Angle may have been divided over taxes and the role of a legislator initially. But by 2008, when she challenged him in the state Senate primary, it seemed more personal. (Raggio will mention occasionally that Angle never called to concede the race to him.)

And List and Rogich’s letters dragged into the light of day the type of accusations that politicos mutter over drinks.

List started with a letter to the Republican National Committee, criticizing it for having Rogich co-host a Las Vegas fundraiser for California U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorino. Rogich is an adviser to Reid’s campaign.

“Rogich has burned virtually every bridge to our party and to the Las Vegas business community,” List wrote in letters first reported by the Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston.

Rogich responded by calling List a failed politician who sold out the state as a pro-Yucca Mountain project lobbyist.

List wrote another letter, stating that Rogich was selfishly motivated in supporting Reid.

“No one is buying your rhetoric about your support for Harry Reid being driven by ‘what is best for Nevada.’ It is patently clear that your support for Sen. Reid is all about your personal economic interests, as every knowledgeable political observer and operative in this state knows.”

Both Rogich and List downplayed the conflict in interviews with the Sun.

“I don’t think it has long-term effect,” Rogich said.

List called it “sideline noise.”

Some Republicans say that the party is less fractured than it appears and the Reid campaign wants the public to believe.

Robert Uithoven, a Republican who ran Sue Lowden’s unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid, said outside of a few well-known, longtime insiders, there has not been a wave of defections.

“They’re all people who have financial interest in Sen. Reid’s success, or have long-term relationships with the senator,” Uithoven said. “It’s not as widespread as you think. Republicans are remarkably unified around Sharron Angle.”

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