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PARTY LINES: Vote, claim fraud, recount, sue, repeat

Long before Donald Trump claimed the election was going to be rigged in 2016 (before he won said rigged election), former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle was setting the trend.

The Reno Republican gave up her seat in the Nevada Assembly in 2006 to make a bid for Congress in the 2nd District, running against former Nevada Secretary of State (and future U.S. Sen.) Dean Heller in the GOP primary.

Angle lost, albeit narrowly (just 421 votes separated her and Heller). She claimed problems at Washoe County polling places disenfranchised her voters and demanded a new election be held. A lawsuit over the allegations was dismissed.

But Angle said at the time that she considered the doomed effort to have been worthwhile.

“We were able to bring the integrity of elections and the value of every single vote to such a prominence that I think we can be assured, I hope we can be assured, that we will have an honest, fair election in November and that we will never see a repeat of what happened in the primary election of August 15,” she said in a Las Vegas Review-Journal story in September 2006.

Fat chance.

Four years later, Angle won the Republican primary to challenge then-U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who was considered vulnerable. Public polls — including those commissioned by the Review-Journal — showed her winning the race.

But the polls were wrong, except for those conducted by Reid’s campaign. There, pollster Mark Mellman had nailed the turnout model, and weeks before the election, predicted Reid would win by 6 percentage points. The final margin: 5.7 percentage points.

Again, there were allegations of wrongdoing. During early voting, Angle told a Reno radio host that “we have found irregularities. We aren’t saying there is no voter fraud. We are looking for it.”

After Angle’s loss, Cleta Mitchell — who would later make headlines as one of Trump’s election-denying attorneys — alleged that the company then known as Harrah’s Entertainment had coerced workers into voting for Reid. (In fact, the company’s employees participated in a get-out-the-vote campaign in conjunction with the Culinary Local 226, which chartered buses to get union members to the polls.)

In 2011, Mother Jones reported that Angle was implying — without evidence — that vague irregularities cost her the election.

“‘There were things that happened within that race that we’re investigating, as far as the mischief. We do have a challenge in the Department of Justice to look into the mischief that happened in that election. And that is one of the goals of the (Angle) PAC, to make sure we have election integrity.’ Was she alleging voter fraud? ‘No allegations. No allegations. Just know that there was mischief there, and we have a challenge in the Department of Justice.’ So what did she mean by ‘mischief’? ‘Anomalies, things that shouldn’t have happened in a free election.’”

In a 2014 interview on the Nevada Newsmakers program, she said, “I think it (voter fraud) is an element in every election across the United States. I’ve been traveling … and I have done quite a bit of it and they asked me two questions. One is, ‘What are you doing now?’ And the other is, ‘Did Harry Reid steal the election?’”

Spoiler alert: No, he did not.

Angle has since faded into the mists of Nevada political history, but she’s been replaced by Trump, who has claimed fraud in 2016 (when he won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote) and in 2020 (when he lost both).

Which brings us to Reno attorney and failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Joey Gilbert, something of the Sharron Angle of 2022. Like Angle (who once compared herself to Moses, St. Paul and Jesus, and mused aloud about “Second Amendment remedies” for political problems in a radio interview), Gilbert is given to flights of fancy. He’s espoused conspiracy theories about the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas, and he’s refused to accept the results of the primary election.

So convinced was Gilbert that the election was wrong, he got a PAC to pay nearly $200,000 to find out that he actually earned six fewer votes than he originally got statewide.

Gilbert acknowledged before the recount was complete that it would not change his 26,000-vote loss to Joe Lombardo in the primary, but that it was simply a step toward filing a lawsuit over the results.

“All they’re doing is using the same fixed and cooked ballots, putting them through the same, broken machines,” Gilbert said in a video. “So, do I expect much to come from this? No. But it’s part of the process.”

It seems he’s right: From Angle to Trump to secretary of state hopeful Jim Marchant to Gilbert, the election is just the first step in the process. If you win, great. If you lose, then allege fraud, demand recounts and sue to get a new election.

On one level, it’s understandable: Gilbert had a lot of support in the primary. He was endorsed by the Nevada Republican Party, even after Trump endorsed Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo. He got good turnout at meetings and rallies. He won straw polls. He worked hard, sometimes staging multiple events in a single day. It’s easy to understand why after all that, a candidate would feel that a loss couldn’t have been because the other candidate earned more votes. It’s easier and less ego-defeating to think there was fraud involved.

“This entire election was a sham,” Gilbert declared in an online video.

Except it wasn’t. The original vote count and now a recount has confirmed it. It’s highly likely that Gilbert will be no more able to muster evidence of voter fraud than Angle or Trump before him.

But, politically speaking, there is a group that will benefit from extending the primary campaign through the general election in the courts. We call them Democrats.

Say it ain’t Joe!

Your humble correspondent has had plenty of experience being confused with Gov. Steve Sisolak. Back when Sisolak served on the Clark County Commission, his Twitter handle was so similar to ours, we’d constantly get tweets confusing the two of us, even when we reminded the public that the commissioner was the one with hair. Despite the obvious political liability of being confused for an ink-stained journalist online, Sisolak nonetheless won the gubernatorial election of 2018.

But you’d expect a little more from the fine folks at the Democratic National Committee, whose job it is to elect Democrats up and down the ticket. Which is why a tweet (helpfully captured by Elizabeth Ray, spokeswoman for the Lombardo for governor campaign) is especially embarrassing.

“In November, voters will reject (Adam) Laxalt and (Joe) Lombardo’s far-right fearmongering and elect Nevada Democrats like Catherine Cortez Masto and Joe Sisolak who will continue to deliver for Nevada families.”

C’mon, DNC! There’s only one Joe in this race, and it’s Lombardo. Then again, so long as voters mark the circle next to the name “Sisolak,” the governor probably doesn’t care if you remember his first name.

Speaking of Sisolak

The governor launched his first ad of the general election campaign, and it is a good one. Titled “Two Economies,” it aims to help Sisolak get ahead of anticipated attacks over inflation, gas prices and more.

“It’s a tale of two economies,” Sisolak says at the start. “Look down the Strip, or Virginia Street. Hotels are full. Unemployment’s low. And our economy is rated best in America.

“But there’s another story, too,” the governor continues, walking down a suburban street. “Housing prices. Gas. Groceries. All taking a toll. I get it. That’s why we’re expanding child care. Investing $500 million in housing. Tuition-free community college. And no new taxes. Because Nevada should be a place you can afford to call home.”

It’s not quite, “I feel your pain,” but it’s close, trying to show Sisolak empathizing with struggling Nevadans even as the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the ad drew a brutal line-by-line response from Lombardo’s campaign.

“Sisolak is actually right on this one — there is a tale of two economies in our country,” Ray wrote. “There are states whose governors managed their economies well throughout COVID … and those that didn’t. Nevada falls into the latter category.”

The release cites a National Bureau of Economic Research that gave Nevada a “D” grade for its economic response to COVID, and a Politico ranking of the state as second-worst in responding to the pandemic. It also cited Nevada’s stubbornly high unemployment rate (49th in the nation at 4.9 percent as of May, behind only New Mexico and Washington, D.C., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and higher-than-average gasoline prices.

The fact-check also goes back at Sisolak for his no-new-taxes claim, citing two bills that would have maintained taxes at their existing rates that were scheduled to fall. While some have argued that wouldn’t count as a tax “increase,” the Nevada Supreme Court disagreed, and found both unconstitutional, since they failed to pass with a two-thirds supermajority. Sisolak also signed a bill raising taxes on the mining industry.

“Steve Sisolak is trying to gaslight Nevadans and confuse them about his economic record,” Ray concludes. “Despite his best efforts, Nevadans won’t forget how Sisolak raised taxes, shut down the economy, closed small businesses and contributed to ‘Bidenflation.’”

Well, at least they got his first name right.

Beware of Greeks opposing military deals!

Rep. Dina Titus is proud of her Greek heritage. She’s visited the nation frequently and was a serious candidate to be considered President Joe Biden’s ambassador to the nation that invented democracy.

But Titus — and a few of her fellow Greeks who are members of the Congressional Congress on Hellenic Issues — spoke out recently against a Biden deal to sell General Dynamics F-16 “Fighting Falcon” air superiority fighters to Turkey.

“While Turkey’s relenting on their opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO is a welcome development, there are still too many outstanding issues to move forward with the sale of F-16s to (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan’s government,” the representatives wrote. “Over the last decade, Turkey has not been a productive member of NATO nor a reliable ally to the U.S.”

The members cited Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system, resulting in U.S. sanctions; more than 2,300 violations of Green airspace; hostility to the Greek government; and the potential re-invasion of Syria to target Kurdish forces in the north. The statement promises continued opposition to the fighter sales while those issues are outstanding.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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