A showdown looms for leadership of the state Republican Party, with Nevada’s top elected Republicans backing a challenger to overhaul the party marred by divisiveness.
Robert Uithoven, a longtime GOP operative, is challenging current Chairman Michael McDonald. The state GOP central committee meets Saturday in Las Vegas to elect officers.
Uithoven has the backing of Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and other elected GOP officials. He also brings the implied support of Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a high-profile Republican donor who in the last election gave nearly $100 million to help Republican candidates nationwide.
Uithoven is a lobbyist for Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp.
He said he didn’t consult with Adelson about his candidacy for the party post.
“He will be one of the first people I talk to if I am successful,” Uithoven said. “I don’t think we can have a vibrant Republican Party in this state without his support.”
But he said he did talk with Sandoval, noting he wouldn’t have entered the race without the governor’s endorsement.
McDonald, a former police officer and Las Vegas councilman, took the reins of the state GOP 18 months ago. He said he’s been traveling the state during that time, trying to unify Republicans.
“I’ve been to every nook and cranny I could possibly reach,” McDonald told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “It was about uniting the party, and we have done that.”
Nevada’s Republican Party has been frayed and fractured for years, with the toll displayed in lopsided voter-registration numbers and at the ballot box. In the last election, Democrats outpaced the GOP in voter registrations by 90,000.
In 2008, a giant split erupted when state GOP Chairwoman Sue Lowden shut down the state convention as supporters of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul were poised to win a big chunk of delegates to the national convention.
Four years later, Paul supporters took control of the several county Republican parties and carried those victories to the state convention, where they won 22 of 25 at-large delegate slots to the national convention where Mitt Romney was nominated for president.
Former Nevada GOP Committeewoman Heidi Smith was booed at the 2012 state gathering when she held up a Romney sign. Smith also lost her post last year, as did former National Committeeman Bob List, once Nevada’s governor.
The rancorous division spurred the National Republican Party and big donors to bypass the state GOP during the 2012 campaign.
It’s also a reminder that when it comes to the rough-and-tumble of local politics, nothing is a given, and having the backing of the GOP establishment does not necessarily equate to success in the fight for party control.