Race that could decide control of Nevada Senate features testy Democratic primary

By: - May 24, 2024 5:15 am

Left to Right: Jennifer Atlas and Christian Bishop are competing in the Democratic primary for Nevada State Senate District 5 (Photos courtesy of the candidates)

The Nevada State Senate district expected to have the most competitive general election race is also having one of the most cutthroat primaries, with two well-funded Democratic candidates actively campaigning and dividing support.

State Senate District 5, which covers parts of Henderson, is considered the most flippable seat this year for Democrats, who are currently one senator shy of a supermajority in the Legislature’s upper chamber. Securing a supermajority in both chambers would allow the majority party to override any gubernatorial veto, of which there have been dozens.

Republican state Sen. Carrie Buck, the incumbent who has represented the district since 2020, faces a primary challenge from self-funded candidate Richard Frederick, but she is significantly ahead in terms of actual donations and endorsements.

Meanwhile, the Democratic primary appears less certain. Jennifer Atlas, a competitive ballroom dancer turned paralegal and lobbyist, is the preferred choice of the Nevada Senate Democratic Caucus, and has been endorsed by Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada and AFL-CIO, among others. Christian Bishop, an esports consultant and entrepreneur who appeared on a season of The Bachelorette, has the backing of Culinary Union, the Nevada State Education Association, and several veteran groups.

Bishop acknowledges there are people who are critical of him for running against a caucus-backed candidate, especially in what is expected to be a competitive general election race, but he says he doesn’t like gatekeeping. Those who think the Democratic candidate should be hand selected and not chosen by voters are undermining democracy, he said

“I’m a family man. I’m a mixed, biracial, diverse candidate. I’m young. I’m everything our Democratic Party has wanted to run,” said Bishop, who is 35. “I’m here to step up to that call.”

Bishop says he is a lifelong Democrat who since moving to Nevada eight years ago has become more active in politics, serving on the board of Henderson Democrats and canvassing and mobilizing for candidates up and down the ballot. He has contributed $100,000 toward Democratic candidates, including to Kristee Watson, who lost to Buck by less than 1% of votes in 2020.

Bishop is an esports consultant and has owned several tech companies over the years. He also appeared on the 12th season of The Bachelorette, which aired in 2016. (He was eliminated in week three.)

“I’ve been on both sides of the table — an everyday worker and a business builder who’s managing the responsibility of taking care of staff and making payroll,” he said.

Atlas comes with her own behind-the-scenes political experience, having worked as a lobbyist since 2018 and in the government affairs team for MGM Resorts. Before her political and policy work, she was a competitive ballroom dancer and teacher turned convention gig and concierge worker. After having her son, she decided to go back to school to become a paralegal, which led to her current professional endeavors.

She said her “zigzaggy” career path makes her acutely aware of the cyclical nature of the economy in Southern Nevada. What sets her apart from Bishop, in her eyes, is that she understands “how Nevada policy works.”

“I have been in this world,” she said. “I can get in on day one and work, work on health care, really start to make a difference. I feel like I’m the one that can hit the ground running and really represent the district.”

Supporters of Bishop are pointing to that experience as a negative. Strong Public Schools Nevada, a PAC associated with NSEA, sent a mailer in support of Bishop that highlighted the fact Atlas is listed as a registered lobbyist for the Athletics Investment Group, for which state lawmakers approved $380 million in public assistance to build a baseball stadium in the Las Vegas Strip. The education group vehemently opposes that project.

Atlas and Bishop both identified education as a top priority for the state. Whoever wins the Democratic primary will likely face Buck, a charter school executive.

Both Democrats expressed a passion for health care issues. Bishop noted he is married to a nurse at MountainView Hospital.

Atlas says one of her legislative priorities is to introduce a bill to automatically enroll into Medicaid babies who enter the neonatal intensive care unit. Currently, NICU babies are eligible for Medicaid but their parents must actively fill out the paperwork.

Atlas says she didn’t realize this when she gave birth to her son Beau 10 years ago, so she declined to fill out the paperwork and found herself with medical bills totalling half a million dollars, which she later had to fight.

“When I was presented with paperwork, I was sick in the ICU. I saw ‘Medicaid’ but I knew I had good insurance, so I didn’t think we qualified. We were focused on our baby. We weren’t thinking about paperwork.”

Bishop says part of his motivation for running is knowing a potential supermajority is up for grabs.

“What I’d like to see is forward thinking and a forward looking legislature, where we choose to invest, to not always be reactive,” he said. “How can we think a decade in advance, two decades in advance?”

Allegations arise

Atlas’s campaign has sent to voters mailers calling Bishop “completely creepy & seriously disgusting” and highlighting claims made by two women on She’s All Bach, a podcast focused on The Bachelorette, that he requested nude photos and canceled their hotel room after they wouldn’t have sex with him.

Nevada Legislative Victory, a PAC whose money largely comes from sitting Democratic state senators, sent an even more aggressive mailer attacking Bishop for allegedly “pressuring a young woman for sex.”

The Nevada Independent has reported on the allegations made in those mailers. Bishop has denied pressuring or expecting sex from the women.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist and deputy editor of Nevada Current. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, three children and one mutt.

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