Tuesday, June 3, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Political activist and tea party candidate Niger Innis likes to frame himself as the outsider, the fringe candidate whose ideas resonate with people tired of the establishment.
But some Republican operatives see the outspoken and unapologetically conservative candidate as their best chance to unseat Democratic incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District.
Even though Innis doesn’t have the support of Nevada’s top two Republicans, Gov. Brian Sandoval and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, the state’s Republican party endorsed Innis over District 19 Assemblyman Cresent Hardy for the June 10 Republican primary.
Innis has used that to fit his outsider narrative.
“My opponent has the consultant class and the establishment behind him, but the GOP endorsement is the best reflection of the voter,” he said in an interview with the Sun.
Innis has name recognition outside Nevada, his “adopted state” since 2007. He’s a national spokesperson for his father’s historic civil rights organization, Congress for Racial Equality. Over the years, CORE has evolved into a conservative, minority-focused advocacy group fighting for what Innis calls “black capitalism.”
Partly because of his role in CORE, Innis became a go-to voice for conservative minorities as a frequent commentator on national radio and TV.
Innis was also a consultant for one of the tea party’s largest websites, theteaparty.net.
His views fit nicely into the tea party. Above all else, he wants to drill down our nation’s $17 trillion debt. He thinks government should get out of the way of business. He worked with fellow conservatives to map out an immigration reform plan that pushes undocumented immigrants who served in the military to the front of the citizenship line and keeps others out of the country.
“We know that Democrats are going to racially demagogue this issue,” he said of writing an immigration reform plan, “so we felt it was very important to talk about not what we were against but what we are in favor of.”
On the campaign trail and in daily life, race is very much at the forefront for Innis, who is black. CORE has faced numerous criticisms over the years that it will sell out its reputation for any major company that needs a “black touch.”
Innis denies those accusations, maintaining his nonprofit consistently supports causes it believes in. But he does agree his race has become an issue in his first campaign for public office.
“I think others may look at the uniqueness of my candidacy, the fact that I’m an African-American, conservative tea party Republican and somehow race injects itself into the conversation,” he said.
Innis has also had to explain past financial troubles. From 2002 to 2005, the Internal Revenue Service put about $18,000 in tax liens on Innis, and his home state of New York issued more than $67,000 in tax liens. In that time period, Innis also defaulted on his car, student and credit card loans and got evicted from his apartment.
Innis says he was reckless with money when he was younger and adds that he’s proud he didn’t declare bankruptcy but instead decided to slowly pay back debts.
“I made some mistakes financially when I was younger, and they’re coming back to bite me in the butt,” he said.
Fundraising for his campaign appears to be easier than managing his personal finances. Innis has kept pace fundraising with his opponent throughout the campaign. He has about $66,000 cash on hand since late May, compared to Hardy’s $55,000 (though last quarter Hardy had about $10,000 more than Innis).
Which candidate wins the low-turnout primary (early voting is already open) is anyone’s guess.
With typical confidence, Innis says he knows it will be him. He circles back to his perceived outsider status as the key ingredient that’s going to send him onto the general election.
“(Hardy’s) got the power,” he said. “I’ve got the people behind me.”