Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013 | 6:14 p.m.
In a rebuke to Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Nevada Republican Party re-elected chairman Michael McDonald at a party meeting Saturday, snubbing Sandoval's choice.
Sandoval, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and a clutch of Republican legislators had supported Robert Uithoven, a lobbyist for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., in an unsuccessful bid to unseat McDonald.
The election displayed yet another rift among Republicans as the state’s top elected Republicans failed to wrangle the party under their control and grassroots party members appeared to reject a top-down approach to party leadership.
“The work I do is to empower the people in the party,” McDonald said. “We’re moving in the right direction. The grassroots is growing stronger. People are taking ownership back in the party … so if you truly want to get Republicans elected, clearly here’s an avenue to get on board.”
The grassroots base of Republicans who supported McDonald ultimately carried him to victory with 63 percent of the vote among about 300 Nevada Republican Party central committee members.
Sandoval’s campaign team had tried to whip votes in favor of Uithoven, but McDonald supporters at the Republican meeting at the South Point appeared unconvinced that Uithoven could bring more money into the state party while also maintaining relations with party regulars.
“The grassroots folks never believe they’re appreciated by the donors,” said Grant Hewitt, Republican political consultant with Red Point Strategies. “If you come here with the message of money, it doesn’t resonate.”
Both sides offered different paths to help register Republican voters, support Republican candidates and ultimately win at the ballot box in an increasingly Democratic-leaning battleground state.
With the backing of the governor, Uithoven had wanted to project confidence to a donor community wary of donating to the Nevada Republican Party.
McDonald said he has worked hard during his chairmanship to unite factions in the party and bolster grassroots involvement in the party.
“If you want a voice in this party, I’m your man,” McDonald told Republicans in a speech before the voting began. “It can’t be a top-down structure. That philosophy is, if you part your hair the wrong way, I’ll stop funding you.”
Donor support was an issue that Uithoven brought to the forefront in his brief, week-long campaign to unseat McDonald.
The company he represents, the Las Vegas Sands, recently yanked its support from the party.
The Las Vegas Sands claimed it’s responsible for donating the lion’s share of the money the Nevada Republican Party has recently raised and said in a tweet that “support is over until the party is effective.”
Major Republican donor and Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson won’t support a party that isn’t “functional” and making strides in registering voters, welcoming elected officials and focusing on winning elections, said Andy Abboud, vice president of government relations at the Las Vegas Sands, at the meeting Saturday.
“We just don’t see that happening,” he said.
Uithoven said he was confident he could bring back donors like the Sands.
“We have to get the grassroots funded,” Uithoven told Republicans in a brief campaign speech Saturday morning in which he also touted the support of elected Republicans. “I’m honored to have the endorsement of Gov. Sandoval.”
But Uithoven’s support from Sandoval and Adelson may not have played well with party members.
Some McDonald supporters arrived to the Nevada Republican Party meeting Saturday morning wearing T-shirts that said “fighting for the soul of the party” and featured a devil stirring a pot of money emblazoned with the words “greed” and “power” next to an elephant with boxing shorts displaying McDonald’s name.
The T-shirt also displayed the words “consultants vs. the people”
“They were frustrated with the message that was coming out that it’s all about the money,” said Carl Bunce, a Republican who helped make and distribute the shirts. “There’s a lot of us in the grassroots who don’t care. We care about the principles of the party.”
He said elected officials like Sandoval, Heller and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., employ consultants like November, Inc.’s Mike Slanker and Red Rock Strategies’ Ryan Erwin who care more about corporate sponsors than Republican principles.
He characterized the election as a fight over “whether we have meaning or not” as a party with principles.
Others echoed similar concerns.
“I had a concern with a consultant for a major casino company running the state party,” said James Smack, national committeeman for the Nevada Republican Party.
Still, he said he hopes Sandoval and Heller will stay engaged in the party.
Although McDonald called the race “ugly” and full of “defamatory” statements, he called for Republican unity in his victory speech.
“It’s a new day,” he said.
Republicans also elected Jim DeGraffenreid as vice chairman, Nan Adams as secretary, and Michael Bertrand as treasurer at the meeting Saturday.