HENDERSON, Nevada (CN) — There are few states where you could find a reality TV star, a former pro wrestler, and a professional poker player in politics at all, let alone in the same race.
But this is Nevada, so welcome to the Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District — a suburban Las Vegas seat currently held by a Democrat but in the sights of the Republican Party as a possible gain in November.
The winner in the all-mail primary on June 9 will face Representative Susie Lee, who is coming off her first term in November. The GOP race has been marked by talk of forgery, assault, voter fraud and false conservatism.
The candidates drawing the most support and attention are actress Mindy Robinson, 40, an outspoken conservative social media voice with 216,000 Twitter followers; former pro wrestler and attorney Dan Rodimer, 42, who has the support of the NRA and some mainstream Republicans; and Dan Schwartz, 69, a perennial Nevada candidate who has run five campaigns, including one for Nevada treasurer, an office he held from 2015-19.
Other candidates include professional poker player Brian Nadell; former apparel industry executive Cory Newberry; and former teacher and school principal Victor Willert, a native New Yorker and son of Filipino immigrants.
“We’ve got a reality TV star and a pro wrestler, and I do think the guy who has held office before may be able to compete with them,” said Michael Green, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, political science professor, referring to Schwartz, an outsider who clashed with Nevada GOP leaders.
Schwartz does not support President Donald Trump, for example, and he did not get along with Republican Governor Brian Sandoval when he was treasurer, Green said.
The 3rd District, which stretches from the bottom edge of the Las Vegas strip southeast through Boulder City to the southern tip of the state, is home to 468,000 of the state’s 1.6 million voters, according to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office numbers for May.
Although 172,000 district voters are registered Democrats compared to 157,000 Republicans, 110,000 independents have helped Republicans hold sway in six of nine elections since 2002, when the district was added to Nevada’s congressional delegation, Green said.
That close split between Democratic and Republican voters is likely to attract national money after the primary, he said.
“The logic is that if any district is going to swing Republican in Nevada, this would be their best hope,” Green said.
Dan Schwartz, who came to Nevada after a career in financial advising and publishing, fits a mold of wealthy people moving to Nevada to wield influence, which was easier decades ago, Green said.
“Today it’s still small in comparison to a lot of other places, so there are a lot of opportunities for a Dan Schwartz that might not exist elsewhere,” he said.
Schwartz declined an interview for this story, citing advice from campaign consultants, but eventually answered questions via email.
Schwartz said experience in office and business makes him the best choice. He said he quintupled returns on the state general fund, opposed a $1.2 billion tax hike and a $750 million boost for a football stadium.
The pandemic is foremost in his thoughts during this campaign, and he wants the economy open. He thinks the market can take care of itself, if we let it.
“Ultimately, public safety and health issues are paramount, but we cannot push our economy into oblivion,” he wrote. “We have to help out those who have lost their jobs and small businessmen who have seen their doors closed. But the real key is the free market. Give it room to operate.”
After citing his own record in office, Schwartz took a jab at Rodimer.
“My opponent has a record all right — a police record,” he wrote. “Taken down to the station 3 times for violent assaults (including one arrest); five lawsuits for forgery, fraud, not paying his taxes among others.”
Rodimer, who played football at University of South Florida and wrestled briefly for World Wrestling Entertainment, did not respond to several requests for an interview. Green called him the “Trump candidate,” the chosen party insider who has endorsements from the NRA and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
His website touts his eight-point plan to gradually reopen the state for business and open an investigation into the World Health Organization handling of the pandemic; support for Trump’s immigration and border policies; and support for replacing the Affordable Care Act with open-market competition among insurers, which he says would bring costs down for everyone.
Robinson came late to the race in recent months, bringing almost no cash but a large social media following. She calls herself a fiscal conservative and social liberal. She supports same-sex marriage but wants Roe v. Wade overturned.
The Massachusetts native has a chance, Green said.
“She is the most prominent woman in a race where the other two big names are men, and if you’re not sure which way to go, you might say to yourself, ‘Huh, well a woman might have a better chance running against a woman,’” he said.
Robinson, who got into the race because she didn’t like the candidates, said she gets grief from “stuffy” conservatives who don’t like her support of same-sex marriage or the way she dresses or acts, but she doesn’t think all conservatives have to believe the same things.
“There’s more to being a conservative than looking like Barbara Bush,” she said. “You can only be so offended. Eventually you’re going to be offended by everyone in the room. We have to work together, even if we don’t agree on some things.”
She said she wants everyone in the nation to have to show an ID to vote and believes ballot harvesting results in widespread fraud. She believes it is happening in Nevada’s all-mail election now, saying she noticed a suspicious dip in the number GOP ballots filed and a corresponding rise in the number of Democratic ones.
No one knows who is filling out ballots, she said.
“I could sign up 1,000 people, no ID, pick up those ballots in a shed and mail them all out. I’m sure it’s happened already,” she said.
Robinson, who called Schwartz a RINO, is against assault-rifle bans and universal background checks and supports universal concealed carry laws that would make her Nevada permit valid everywhere, the way drivers licenses work.
Chris Scarpulla, 51, owns The Great American Pub, a sports and gaming bar in a suburban Henderson strip mall. The pandemic hit Scarpulla hard.
“We were closed completely for two months,” said the Philadelphia native, adding that he got a relief loan, 100% of which went to employees.
Scarpulla is ready to open fully his bar, which is open now with no gaming, social distanced seating and mask-wearing staff. He supports Rodimer because he likes his traditional family values.
At lunchtime on Wednesday, several regulars at The Great American told the bartender they would be back at 12:01 a.m., when the state allowed gaming to restart and the bar would flip the switch on gaming machines, which are now separated by plexiglass partitions.
Across town at Brando’s, a small neighborhood bar that also offers gaming, there are no partitions. Bartender Julie Dutton was wearing a mask Wednesday, but no customers were.
Brando’s owner Anthony Brando, 52, has lived in Henderson for 30 years. Because he owns the building, land and business outright, he has not had the same struggle other business owners had making mortgage or rent payments.
An independent who leans Republican lately, Brando is backing Robinson, partly because he is not happy with the Democrats’ desire to keep the economy on lockdown and she strongly supports opening everything now, he said.
Trump needs more support from Congress, and Brando thinks Robinson will give it to him.
“Am I going to agree with everything she has to say or believes in? Probably not, because that’s impossible for any of us,” he said. “But I do like that she stands up for what she believes in. What you see is what you get.”