Las Vegas Sun

August 2, 2015

Currently: 92° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

The Senate Race:

Prominent Republicans coming out in support of Harry Reid

Click to enlarge photo

Sig Rogich is a former consultant for GOP governors Kenny Guinn and Jim Gibbons. Rogich says Republicans are "setting aside the ideologies for the betterment of the state."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election campaign has received several endorsements, but perhaps the most unusual one has been from an upstart band of his regular rivals, who have come together to support him under a banner that screams “swing vote”: Republicans for Reid.

The GOP group, formed well in advance of the midterm elections last year, has been slowly adding to its ranks ever since. For the most part, the 400-plus Republicans making up the list are prominent business owners, politicians, and political consultants with deep GOP ties — such as their leader, Sig Rogich.

Many have lent their names to the Reid campaign because they have long histories with him; many others have simply determined that Reid’s policies and clout would better serve the state than Sharron Angle’s.

But this is far from a band of boosters. Insofar as organized efforts go, Reid’s Republicans are a club without a clubhouse, a fraternity with no sacred oaths or traditions, a decentralized machine where all one must do to become part of the apparatus is sign on the dotted line.

Republicans for Reid is, in effect, a cross-section of the party’s disenchanted. But although their message has made headlines, the true test of their efficacy as a movement depends on what happens at the polls.

So far, those aren’t showing a remarkable turning in the tide.

“We’re getting over 90 percent of the Republican vote, so they might be one of the most ineffective coalitions in campaign history,” Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen said of the swing-vote campaign.

That 90 percent is from internal Angle campaign polling, but recent public polls aren’t showing a much rosier picture for Reid: a Las Vegas Review-Journal/KLAS Channel 8 poll from mid-October put Republican support for Angle at 84 percent of registered party voters.

In a race this close, just a few percentage points could be enough for a victory. But it’s not clear how much further Republicans rallying for Reid will be able to push their effort, when not all on the list are equally engaged.

Some, like Rogich, the group’s founder who otherwise has a long history of Republican political dealings, are vigorous and vocal in their support of the senior senator.

“To lose Sen. Reid would be catastrophic for Southern Nevada,” Rogich said. “We need Harry Reid at the table. He’s our only leverage. If we elect Sharron Angle, it would probably be the most embarrassing moment in Nevada’s history.”

Among the reasons Rogich embraces Reid: Last year the senator, who had supported construction of a maglev transportation system to link Las Vegas and Southern California, switched his support to DesertXpress, a more conventional high-speed train that Rogich backs and that Reid had concluded was a more viable choice.

For other Republicans, there was no luster in joining the list.

“I’m a little confused still, to be honest with you. I think it’s absolutely frightening that these are the candidates we get,” said Sam Francovich, owner of the Grill at Quail Corners, a Reno restaurant. “But from everyone who’s running at this point, he’s the best choice we have.”

The two men represent the opposite ends of a spectrum. Rogich, the influential rabble-rouser, has been raising money and pressing flesh to turn out votes for Reid; Francovich, the small-business owner, is not moved to do more than reluctantly promise his vote.

The Reid campaign appears to be content with that variance.

“The fact that Sen. Reid has earned the support of so many mainstream Republicans and high-profile Republican leaders is testimony to just how extreme and dangerous Sharron Angle’s agenda for Nevada would be,” Reid campaign spokesman Kelly Steele said. “Republicans for Reid has been a critical component of this campaign’s success.”

To make a difference though, Reid’s Republicans have to deliver far more than their names.

For some, the risk of helping is just too great — or distasteful.

There’s a risk in breaking from the GOP to support Reid, even in a year in which the state Republican Party is more or less in disarray.

Perhaps no one on Reid’s list is more aware of this than state Sen. Bill Raggio, who has endured a cavalcade of calls to remove him as Senate minority leader, a position he was expected to easily retain.

Bill Raggio

Bill Raggio

Raggio says he has no intention of doing extra work for the campaign.

“The short answer is, I issued a news release, and that’s all I have to say about it,” Raggio said. “I said what I thought about Reid, and that I was reluctantly willing to vote for him. So I’m not going to enlarge upon that.”

But in that news release, Raggio noted that Angle challenged him in a primary for his Senate seat two years ago in a “very negative campaign (that) distorted my record” and that she “lent aid and comfort to an effort to recall me” as state senator.

Whether Raggio pays a price for supporting Reid remains to be seen; Republican bigwigs who support Reid risk being ostracized from their party down the line.

But they just aren’t thinking about that right now.

“I’m sure there will be some criticism,” said state Sen. Dean Rhoads, the most recent addition to Reid’s list of Republican supporters. “But I’m not too concerned about it.”

Despite that, Rhoads said he doesn’t expect at this point to get too heavily invested in the ground game, although he says he thinks he’s “changed a lot of votes talking to people.” Other elected officials, such as Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, have made several public appearances on behalf of Reid, sometimes serving as his surrogate for rallies and other campaign efforts.

But when it comes to the ground game — phone banking, fundraising and community outreach — it’s been the business owners making the strongest showing.

Scott Nielson, executive vice president of Station Casinos, has been working through a political action committee to solicit donations and send out mailings encouraging traditionally Republican voters to cast their ballot for, among others, Reid.

“People in Nevada are very accustomed to not voting strictly by party. They vote for the person who is best suited for the position,” he said. “As the majority leader, he’s in a position to get things done for our state that a more junior senator couldn’t get accomplished.”

For others, the ground game has just been about talking.

“I’ve been reaching out to fellow members, community people, people that I work with, that I know in the state, and that’s basically been it,” said Maggie Arias-Petrel, a director with the Latin Chamber of Commerce, which has not as an organization endorsed a candidate. But its president and CEO, Otto Merida, is also a Republican for Reid and has been employing the same sort of tactics: talking to community leaders — church pastors especially — and hoping they get the word out to the community.

“There are two things you can deliver to help campaigns — you can deliver votes, and you can deliver money,” Merida said. “We are limited in money … but we have voters.”

Arias-Petrel, Merida and Nielson lent their names to Reid’s roster early on — but all said they were inspired to do more for Reid than simply lend their names to the effort after Angle’s campaign never attempted to reach them.

The Republican effort, of course, has areas of strength. Fundraising is the main one.

“We tell people, look, we don’t happen to agree with 100 percent of the policy matters that come before Harry Reid, but we’re setting aside the ideologies for the betterment of the state,” Rogich said.

But their activities are rarely orchestrated — each does what he can.

“It’s not a club where we coordinate a strategy,” Nielson said. “It’s really a matter of having like-minded people who happen to be Republicans.”

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy