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Harry Reid's Machine Takes Control Again in Nevada, a Boon for Dems in 2024

Newsweek 3/8/2023 Adrian Carrasquillo
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in support of Nevada Democrats at Cheyenne High School on November 01, 2022 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. © Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/Getty Images Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in support of Nevada Democrats at Cheyenne High School on November 01, 2022 in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

What a difference two years makes.

Just one term after shocking the Democratic establishment in Nevada by taking control of the influential state party, a slate of Democratic socialists were swept out of power this week, with a unity slate led by state assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno taking control, the first Black woman to lead the Nevada Democratic Party.

But her win also represents a sea change that has the national party breathing a sigh of relief after a rough midterm cycle in Nevada, when Democrat Steve Sisolak lost his bid for reelection while Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto won a cliffhanger to keep her seat, ensuring her party would retain control of the Senate.

The split in Nevada between the Democratic Socialists who were in control and the so-called Reid Machine—the remnants of the successful organizing operation created by former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—led the Reid Democrats to create their own outside group, which resulted in a disjointed statewide effort and disappointing effort overall in the midterms.

As large a role as Nevada played in the 2020 Democratic primary, its importance will be magnified immensely in 2024, with the state moving up on the nominating calendar behind only South Carolina. The state has also emerged as one of the most competitive in the nation, and will be one of the biggest targets for Republicans in the general election, after Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by just over 2 points in 2020. In 2022, Cortez-Masto won by just 0.8 percent, and Sisolak lost by 1.5 points.

"The Reid Machine in Nevada knows how to win elections, and in 2024 whether it's Trump or DeSantis we're going to need our best in the field," Kristian Ramos, a former Reid staffer and Latino vote expert, told Newsweek. "At the end of the day the Reid team has a history of winning statewide."

Jon Ralston, known as the dean of political journalism in Nevada, said the headlines of dysfunction within the Nevada Democratic Party were not helpful, but things are looking up for them after the midterms.

"What it means for candidates and national Democrats is that they don't have to worry about this going into 2024," Ralston told Newsweek, "because the Reid machine will be back in charge of the state party."

The outside group created by former Nevada Democrats was called Nevada Democratic Victory. Before the party election, Molly Forgey, a Reid and Nevada veteran, blasted the efforts of the previous regime, citing the party's own 2022 midterm fact sheet which showed it knocked on just 5,506 doors.

"These numbers are incredibly telling coming from an organization that is apparently proud of their field efforts," Forgey tweeted. "They knocked just 5,500 doors during a critical election cycle for Democrats! For context, in 2020 (during a pandemic) the party knocked more than 100x that amount."

Forgey told Newsweek that knocking on one million doors takes hard work and organization.

"It takes real resources and a lot of volunteers doing work on the ground," she said. "That's what makes up the 'Reid Machine' - it's about people."

Forgey, who worked for Sisolak in the past, would not say whether the previous regime was responsible for his close loss, calling it "an impossible question to answer."

Other Democrats with deep ties to the state agreed, noting that more resources could have been spent to win elections up and down the ballot, but whether or not the outcome would have changed for Sisolak is "unknown."

Ralston said the lack of coordination between Nevada Democrats and the Reid Machine mattered at the margins in a close race.

"Sisolak lost by 1.5 points - could it have been a difference?" he asked. "So many things contributed to that loss, but it's possible."

A veteran of presidential and statewide campaigns in Nevada said the party structure was "so dysfunctional" that it "prevented" Sisolak from winning. They argued that the Nevada Democratic Party was a known commodity to voters, their name carried weight, and that while the outside group did yeoman's work to save Cortez Masto and some congressional Democrats, the disconnect was still harmful.

The source cited the same midterm memo Forgey did, criticizing the former regime for touting its "attempts" to reach voters, but not actual voters contacts.

"If I dial 20 people and nobody picks up that doesn't count," the source said. "It's not 20 attempts, tell me how many people you actually spoke with."

Republicans downplayed the changes with Democratic leadership in the state, arguing that the Reid Machine represents the same strength it did before the party election. Jesus Marquez, a former senior advisor to Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt who lost to Cortez Masto, told Newsweek the powerful Culinary Union in the state is responsible for her win.

He said Republicans must adapt to a new system in Nevada that allows for universal mail voting, which grew the electorate, and groups like the Culinary Union which have hundreds of people available in a tight election to work with voters to "cure" any outstanding issues with their ballots. He said that Republicans getting up to speed on those changes will make the difference in 2024, regardless of whether or not the Reid Machine is officially in charge again.

"Instead of focusing on complaining about elections, we need something like Democrats have with Culinary or the Reid Machine," he said, "an on-the-ground group of 200 to 300 people to knock on doors and cure ballots at the end."

Forgey, who is evaluating her own opportunities, said that Nevada Democrats will once again emerge as the gold standard across the country.

"All we can do is look forward to 2024," she said. "I think national Democrats in state and across the country who look at Nevada as a model for state parties can look at us again as that model."

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