Sen. Dean Heller and other Republicans up for election in Nevada have moved outside the state GOP to form Team Nevada to help voter turnout.
Even before supporters of Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) grabbed headlines by winning control of the Nevada GOP, top Silver State Republicans had moved to build a separate organization to boost down-ballot candidates.
Months earlier, Nevada’s Victory voter turnout program was rebranded “Team Nevada,” moved outside the state GOP. The organization is run by top Nevada elected Republicans and their consultants and is overseen by presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee. County advisory boards populated by activists provide additional input, as do committees that focus on aspects of ground-game strategy.
And Team Nevada might not be the last extra-GOP entity to focus on voter turnout in the Silver State this fall. Some Nevada Republicans are exploring ways to compete with a Democratic-friendly, labor-union-funded ground game that is expected to operate in Northern Nevada, a key presidential and Senate battleground in this swing state. Republicans involved in Team Nevada contend that their approach, unique among party-sanctioned ground games in competitive states, is working.
“The campaigns and volunteers are working together better than they have in any cycle since 2004,” a Nevada Republican said. “Turnout will not be a problem.”
Team Nevada is operating with the support and oversight of the Silver State’s top elected Republicans, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Sen. Dean Heller and Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, a former state GOP chairman. Heck and Heller are top Democratic targets. The senior advisers to these five Republicans have worked together for years and are engaged in the more direct strategizing and tactical decision-making, as are the RNC and the Romney campaign.
Ryan Erwin, Romney’s top Nevada campaign adviser, also consults for Amodei, Heck and Krolicki, Romney’s state campaign co-chairman. Erwin’s former business partner, Mike Slanker, is chief political strategist for Sandoval and Heller. Chris Carr, Romney’s Nevada campaign manager, has worked closely with Erwin and Slanker in recent years and from his position is helping to monitor Team Nevada’s paid staff.
The organization is focused on turning out voters for Romney and candidates for Congress and the state Legislature. It is based in the same building as the Romney campaign, which views its success in the Silver State as partly dependent on Republicans fielding a strong ticket across the board. Team Nevada’s personnel include Executive Director Kristin Vieira, who reports to RNC Regional Political Director Allison Coccia, as well as communications and Hispanic outreach directors.
Team Nevada had intended to align itself with the state GOP, a strategy that was scuttled in May after Paul supporters won control of the state GOP and garnered attention for attacking the RNC and suggesting they might not focus on turning out voters for Romney. In fact, the organization is working closely with Northern Nevada’s Washoe County GOP, considered effective and professionally run.
“The media narrative focuses on drama,” Amodei said in a statement provided to Roll Call. “But I’m focused on getting Republicans, independents and like-minded Democrats to the polls to elect fiscally-responsible individuals whose policies make sense and I’ll work with anybody at the county, state and national party level to accomplish that.”
Team Nevada was quietly launched months ago, before the rift with Paul supporters at the Nevada Republican Party caught the attention of the RNC and the Romney campaign.
Major Republican players in Nevada had previously concluded that the state GOP was too weak to adequately fund, build and lead a voter turnout program that could match the state Democratic Party machine, particularly in an election with competitive House, Senate and presidential races that are expected to attract plenty of outside money and boots on the ground. Managing get-out-the-vote activities is a state party’s main function in an election year.
A Republican insider familiar with the planning behind Team Nevada said it became increasingly clear to Republicans who were gearing up to run for election this year that they “wouldn’t have a viable state party to rely on.” That’s when they began to examine how to compensate, both in terms of assembling an operational ground game and offering a path for Republican donors who wanted to help but did not have confidence in the state GOP.
The GOP insider said Nevada Republicans have periodically had to work around a lackluster state party and were prepared by experience to deal with the eventuality. This individual said Nevada Republicans have been forced to think differently than their Democratic counterparts, who run everything through “the machine that Harry Reid built.”
The Nevada Democratic Party, which built a nationally respected voter turnout operation to help re-elect Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, in 2010, is expected to bring its expertise to bear this fall for President Barack Obama, Heller challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley and the eventual nominee in Heck’s newly drawn 3rd district. Under Reid’s leadership, the state Democratic Party remains well-organized and funded.
Nevada Democratic Party spokesman Zac Petkanas mocked Team Nevada and troubles experienced by the state GOP, saying the issue is one of the big reasons Democrats are expecting to win the marquee races on the Nov. 6 ballot — particularly if the contests are tough down the stretch.
“While Nevada Democrats have spent the last eight years building an organization with a track record of winning tough elections, Nevada Republicans are so disorganized that out-of-state operatives have been forced to parachute in at the last minute to cobble something together,” Petkanas said. “This is the difference between winning and losing campaigns when elections are this close.”
The Romney campaign and the RNC declined to comment for this story.