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GOP crowd vies to challenge Rep. Susie Lee in Nevada

Composer of music used in video games has put in $1.2 million of his own money

Drew Johnson, a Republican candidate in Nevada’s 3rd District, looks at bullet holes in the tin wall from a deadly 1915 poker game during a tour of the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nev., where he was holding a meet and greet on May 28.
Drew Johnson, a Republican candidate in Nevada’s 3rd District, looks at bullet holes in the tin wall from a deadly 1915 poker game during a tour of the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings, Nev., where he was holding a meet and greet on May 28. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A crowded field, expected low turnout and no runoff requirement is a recipe for the unexpected when it comes to elections.

Such is the case in the Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Susie Lee in Nevada’s 3rd District.

The good money might be on Marty O’Donnell, a composer who wrote music for video games including Halo and Destiny, who has won the endorsement of Gov. Joe Lombardo and is a wealthy self-funder who has put in $1.2 million of his own money — including $700,000 added on May 24 — and has spent heavily on TV ads, according to a GOP strategist.

O’Donnell launched his campaign just this past March, and his announcement on X went viral with 16 million views. The late entry came after Republicans went searching for other options after Heidi Kasama, a state assemblywoman, decided to drop out of the race to seek another term in the Nevada Legislature in Carson City.

“People seem to want to go to Washington because they want a career,” he told The Nevada Independent in an interview. “They want political power. They’re looking for influence or money. None of those things are interesting to me.”

In an interview with the local “Pick Your Politics” podcast, he likened going to Congress to “jury duty.”

“Instead of trying to get out of your duty, you should, like, do your duty and then … go back home to the farm,” O’Donnell said. “Nobody is supposed to have a career at this thing.”

The other top funder is former state Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who announced his campaign in January and has at last report loaned his campaign $900,000. Schwartz’s name should be known to voters after his previous unsuccessful runs for office, including for governor, since serving as state treasurer.

The seven-candidate field also includes Drew Johnson, whose résumé includes work as an editorial writer at The Washington Times and for an assortment of conservative think tanks.

Johnson, who ran for a seat on the Clark County Commission last cycle, handicapped the race during a recent meetup with voters at the Pioneer Saloon, the oldest-operating such establishment in southern Nevada, where Johnson had shown off bullet holes still marring the walls from a long-ago dispute over a potentially crooked game of cards.

“We’ve got one person who, you know, made some money writing jingles for commercials and he’s trying to buy the race. He moved here a year and a half ago, two years ago,” Johnson said outside the saloon. “The other candidate is a perennial candidate who always puts a little bit of money in and kind of always finishes second or third. I think he’ll probably have the same fate again this time.”

According to the Independent, O’Donnell formally retired to Nevada in 2021, though he said in interviews that he has long visited and his daughter lives in the area.

Though early voting started Memorial Day weekend, Clark County is a place where voters sometimes decide late, and it can be a challenge to find actual voters for a given district because three House districts converge in and around Las Vegas.

Johnson said he was doing what he did last cycle: “Really getting out and meeting people, knocking doors, having events, letting people know that I understand what it’s like what they’re going through, you know, trying to make it in Vegas.”

Multiple Republican sources put O’Donnell, Schwartz and Johnson as the likely top three, though other candidates include Elizabeth Helgelien, a former Nevada state senator. She has collected endorsements from particularly conservative politicians like Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona and Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, as well as former members and immigration hard-liners Steve King and Tom Tancredo.

Former President Donald Trump, who endorsed former North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee in the 4th District contest on Monday, has not put his thumb on the scale in the 3rd District. Trump will be in Nevada for fundraising and a rally this weekend. 

Any of those candidates will have an uphill battle in November, with Lee having almost $2.5 million in cash on hand at last report. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 3rd District race in the Likely Democratic column.

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