LAS VEGAS — The Nevada Republican Party stripped opposition to abortion and gay marriage from its platform Saturday as state convention delegates instead focused on judging fellow Republicans on their worthiness to serve in office and adherence to GOP values.
The platform, with few changes, was adopted overwhelmingly as the Las Vegas convention stretched late into the evening. The vote mirrors that of the Clark County GOP, which voted earlier to remove platform language defining marriage as between a man and a woman and statements opposing abortion.
Many Republicans are re-evaluating their strong stances on conservative social issues as public opinion shifts in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. The topics have become a political liability for the GOP, especially among younger voters.
Approval of the platform was swift compared with a prolonged, bitter debate in which conservative grassroots loyalists batted back attempts by more moderate members to scrap endorsements of GOP candidates ahead of the upcoming primary.
The party’s central committee initiated the unusual move of endorsing Republicans before the June 10 Nevada primary in response to grassroots anger over early candidate endorsements from elected officials, such as Gov. Brian Sandoval in the contentious lieutenant governor’s race.
It fueled infighting over what it means to be a “true” Republican and is indicative of the deep divides between the conservative wing of the GOP and “establishment” Republicans such as Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and others.
At least three dozen GOP candidates sought primary backing from the state party. Others, including the governor, shunned the process. Sandoval was endorsed nonetheless, but his favorite for lieutenant governor — state Sen. Mark Hutchison — was not. Instead, delegates backed Sue Lowden, a hotel-casino owner, former state party chair and former state senator who lost to Sharron Angle in the crowded 2010 GOP primary field for U.S. Senate.
Lowden and Hutchison are locked in a bitter primary contest that could be a springboard to the governor’s office. The lieutenant governor would ascend to the Governor’s Mansion should Sandoval run and win for federal office in 2016.
Critics earlier said primary endorsements pit Republicans against Republicans and further split the party.
“We need to defeat this process and strike this from the rules,” said Roger Stockton of Washoe County.
But many grassroots activists argue that tapping of candidates by elected officials or establishment Republicans disenfranchises local supporters.
State Party Chairman Michael McDonald opened the convention calling for unity and for the party that has been wracked by deep divisions in recent years to set aside disagreements and focus on bigger issues.
“If we fight among each other over small issues, they’ve already won,” McDonald said, referring to Democrats who have held big leads in voter registrations since 2008 and currently control both chambers in the Nevada Legislature. The state Senate is a top priority in this year’s election. Democrats hold a slim 11-10 majority.
The Nevada GOP has been fractured since 2008, a presidential election year in which the state party convention was abruptly shut down as backers of former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas were poised to win the bulk of Nevada’s delegates to the national convention. Four years later, Paul loyalists won most of the delegate slots despite Mitt Romney’s Nevada caucus victory.
“If we don’t come together and heal now, we won’t take back the Senate. We won’t take the White House,” McDonald said.
McDonald has stayed on the sidelines on primary endorsements until now. On Friday, he said he supports the measure to give more people a voice in local politics.
He said his stance has changed over the past year and he’s concerned that consultants, with access to big campaign donors, are muscling influence at the expense of grassroots party faithful.
But Stockton said primary endorsements would further alienate those in the party.
It would be folly, he said, to think a candidate who was cast aside as “pond scum” before the primary would want to work with the state party to win a general election.