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Nevada's nonpartisan voters could play a major role in deciding key U.S. senate race

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Voters in Nevada could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate next year, and both parties want the support of one group of voters in particular - nonpartisans. They are the largest bloc of voters in Nevada. More people in the state identify as nonpartisan than as Republicans or Democrats. KUNR political reporter Lucia Starbuck is here to talk about the difference they could make. Thanks for joining us.

LUCIA STARBUCK, BYLINE: Thanks so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: Well, Nevada held Senate primaries yesterday, so walk us through the results.

STARBUCK: Yeah. Retired Army Captain Sam Brown came out on top from a crowded Republican primary. He will challenge Democratic incumbent Jacky Rosen. She easily won her primary. AP called those races shortly after polls closed. Brown was badly burned while on duty in Afghanistan, and he later started a small business in Reno to help veterans access medication.

SHAPIRO: And what's the incumbent, Rosen's, message for why she deserves another term?

STARBUCK: Rosen's pointed to her efforts as a first-time senator, like legislation she helped pass to increase access to health care for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins. Here's a clip from a video she posted after the race was called.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACKY ROSEN: I'm running to continue that track record of putting partisan politics aside and taking on powerful...

STARBUCK: Both are campaigning on lowering costs for every day Nevadans, supporting law enforcement and securing the border. Rosen has pledged to protect access to reproductive care, and Brown says he wouldn't support a national abortion ban despite voicing support for a 20-week ban while running unsuccessfully for office 10 years ago in Texas. The race will be tight. In 2022, Nevada's U.S. Senate election was decided by 8,000 votes. But yesterday, nonpartisans didn't really get a say in the closed primary election, and they make up more than 30% of active registered voters.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, so what are you hearing from the nonpartisan voters in Nevada who you've been talking to?

STARBUCK: Oh, they feel disenfranchised, written off and that the closed primary process is very unfair. Election officials say they can take advantage of same-day registration, but voters like Reno resident Mike Escobar, a Marine Corps veteran, say that's not an option.

MIKE ESCOBAR: To effectively betray my ideals and say, OK, I'm a Democrat for a day, or I'm a Republican for a day, and then I'll switch it right back - the fact that people either feel like they have to do it and then do it keeps the system limping along.

STARBUCK: He's a huge proponent of open primaries and ranked-choice voting, which will be on the ballot in November. In general, nonpartisans feel that the parties are too extreme or they're not doing enough, and they really don't want to identify with either.

SHAPIRO: Beyond that desire to not identify with either party, can you describe what some of the issues are that are most important to this group of Nevada voters?

STARBUCK: Yeah, they really can't be viewed as a traditional voting bloc. They're all over the political spectrum, very fluid, looking for concrete solutions. Sixty-two-year-old retiree Cliff Ruddick is upset by what he considers the demonizing of migrants.

CLIFF RUDDICK: I'm sick of that stuff. I tune out. Are you going to fix my roads? Are you going to give me clean water? Are my taxes going to things that I really want them to go to?

STARBUCK: Other issues top of mind are the environment, cost of living, growth, housing and the cost of rent. They're really looking to who will address these issues ahead of November.

SHAPIRO: So what are the two Senate candidates doing to appeal to nonpartisans?

STARBUCK: I asked Brown, after he voted in person yesterday, how he'll appeal to nonpartisans.

SAM BROWN: My message is not geared for just one party. The struggles that people are dealing with, whether it's, you know, public safety concerns - we also have, you know, increased prices. Look, I know, for myself, my wife and I bought our house six years ago. We couldn't buy our house again today if we wanted to.

STARBUCK: Many voters saying obtaining homeownership is a big issue. Rosen's campaign insists she embraces bipartisanship. However, nonpartisans still feel like the parties don't fully represent them. They feel that candidates have really been catering to their bases ahead of - before the primary, and they really want them to widen their message. They want - nonpartisans want to see the parties work together, be civil and recognize that nonpartisans exist.

SHAPIRO: That's KUNRs Lucia Starbuck in Reno, Nev. Thank you.

STARBUCK: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lucia Starbuck
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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