Las Vegas Sun

December 2, 2016

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Memo from Carson City:

Reid endorsement may put Raggio on the outs in GOP

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Las Vegas Sun file

State Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, has endorsed Harry Reid in the U.S. Senate race, putting him at odds with some of his colleagues.

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

The first test of whether Republicans will heal the divide highlighted by the U.S. Senate race will come quickly after Tuesday’s election, when the state Senate GOPers choose a leader.

Sen. Bill Raggio, leader of the Republican caucus since 1977 and an institution in Carson City politics, endorsed Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It prompted calls from conservatives, the Clark County and Nevada Republican Party chairmen and others for a new GOP leader in the state’s upper house.

The Nevada GOP has had a simmering, and at times glaring, split — with establishment Republicans and moderates such as Raggio on one side and more anti-tax, libertarian-leaning members on the other.

The U.S. Senate race, and in particular former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle’s candidacy, has widened that divide, particularly for a number of prominent members of the GOP who joined the “Republicans for Reid.”

A poll of Republican state senators and contenders in competitive districts suggests the caucus is split on whether Raggio should be forgiven and allowed to continue leading them.

Five said they support Raggio or think his leadership is inevitable, although most say they disagree with his Reid endorsement. Another three, when contacted, wouldn’t answer that question. And two candidates didn’t return calls for comment.

There likely will be between seven and 10 Republicans in the 21-seat state Senate, depending on the outcome of Tuesday’s election.

Raggio, first elected in 1972, and who turned 84 on Saturday, said he wasn’t concerned with questions about who will lead the caucus. He said he was instead focused on getting control of the state Senate. He was, of course, curious about how the votes broke down.

Some Republicans who talked to the Las Vegas Sun said they support the longtime leader.

Besides Raggio, the group includes Assemblyman Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, who’s running for state Senate; Ben Kieckhefer, a former spokesman for Gov. Jim Gibbons running for a seat in Reno; and Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, who has also publicly backed Reid and is not up for re-election.

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, who is running for the Carson City Senate seat, is seen as a swing vote. He was disappointed Raggio endorsed Reid, whose political action committees “have given money against me every time I’ve run.”

“I don’t know what will pan out,” he said when asked who will be the next Republican leader. “I imagine he (Raggio) will still be the leader ... He knows how to navigate the political process ... I don’t see anyone with that ability to step forward.”

Others said they wouldn’t discuss their choice until after the election.

“I’m not going to go there,” said Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas. “I’m not even elected again yet.”

She added: “I’m sorry he chose to endorse Harry Reid. That’s not who I’m supporting.”

A more conservative member of the caucus and consistent dissenter on taxes, Cegavske is mentioned as an alternative to Raggio, along with Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon.

Among those who also declined to address who’d they support for caucus leader (and thus possible votes against Raggio):

• Assemblyman Don Gustavson, R-Sparks, a close ally of Angle’s in the Assembly who is running for state Senate.

• McGinness, who was “disappointed” by Raggio’s endorsement but won’t decide whom to support until after the election.

Elizabeth Halseth and Michael Roberson did not return calls for comment.

Halseth is running to replace Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, whom she defeated in the primary. Raggio and the Senate caucus supported Nolan against her.

Roberson, a Las Vegas attorney recruited by the party to challenge Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, is seen as another swing vote.

Republican Party Chairman Mark Amodei, who resigned from the state Senate this year, said Raggio’s endorsement has put his leadership post in jeopardy.

“It’s going to create an interesting caucus meeting the Thursday after the election,” he said. “I just don’t know how you do that, support a Republican who supported Reid without the voters asking what the hell you’re doing.”

Sun Capital Bureau Chief Cy Ryan contributed to this story.

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