The Nevada Democratic Party has an organization superior to the GOP’s, a big voter-registration advantage, a superior ground game, better discipline, more unity, way more money and a vast network of politically active constituencies to help elect its candidates.
So it’s rather amazing that Democrats have managed to put themselves at a strategic disadvantage heading into the state’s 2014 campaign.
With less than 14 months remaining before Election Day, the Democratic Party has no candidate for governor. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, as popular as any elected official in the state, is building his war chest and his re-election operation without having to play so much as a down of defense. In fact, Democratic officials are practically tripping over each other to get out of his way.
With each passing week, it becomes less and less likely that Democrats will find someone who might stand a chance of polling within 10 points of Sandoval.
Why is it so important for Democrats to at least try to run a viable candidate against Sandoval? Because the governor’s race is the top office on the 2014 ticket. It’s a midterm campaign — no presidential race — and neither of Nevada’s U.S. Senate seats are on the ballot. The gubernatorial candidates will be the faces of the 2014 election, the ones dominating headlines and messaging. Their appeal will have a huge impact on the fortunes of down-ticket candidates for state, legislative and county offices.
And the face of the Nevada Democratic Party for 2014 is … Secretary of State Ross Miller, who’ll be running for attorney general. A golden boy, for sure, but he’s not quite ready to be party standard-bearer.
Heck, the Democrats don’t even have an announced candidate for lieutenant governor. State Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, has the backing of Sandoval and the party’s moneyed establishment, while former lawmaker, former party chairwoman and one-time U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden appears intent on waging a GOP primary challenge for the job of governor-in-waiting.
Flash back to 2002, and the re-election campaign of popular Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn. Democrats and their labor allies ran and hid that year, too, leaving anti-establishment Democratic state Sen. Joe Neal of North Las Vegas to challenge Guinn. There was no U.S. Senate race on that ballot, either. With Guinn essentially running unopposed, Republicans swept the six state constitutional offices in routs, including a 24-point victory in the attorney general’s race by … Brian Sandoval.
I’m not suggesting a similar outcome in 2014 — not when Democrats have so much cash on hand, Republicans have so little, and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can swoop in to raise and hand out even more money whenever it’s needed. However, it’s undeniable that Democrats’ visible fear of Sandoval, their perpetual refusal to run on what they claim to believe in, and their weak roster of potential candidates for statewide office have given Republicans an opportunity to rebuild and reload.
The Democrats’ union base actually provided the GOP with its best fundraising pitch: the margins tax initiative.
Republicans are united in strongly opposing the tax, which would hit businesses with a 2 percent levy on all revenue beyond $1 million. It’s a terrible tax that will hit money-losing enterprises and hurt job creation in the state with the country’s highest unemployment rate. If approved by voters, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2015 — the same day ObamaCare’s employer mandate is scheduled to kick in.
The initiative was advanced by the state teachers union to boost funding for public schools, a cause Democrats claim is their highest priority. But the Legislature’s Democratic leadership refused to act on the proposal this year, sending the tax to the 2014 ballot. And now only a few Democrats will publicly endorse the plan, as Sandoval and every other Republican candidate eviscerate it at every opportunity. The business community is on board and developing separate campaigns to kill the tax. Outside groups are prepared to pour money into those efforts, which will include ad buys.
And the face of this campaign, the man leading the call to vote down the margins tax, will be Brian Sandoval. He’ll campaign with every GOP candidate for every swing legislative race, delivering the same message.
Meanwhile, the Democrats might not run a candidate who can raise the money necessary to effectively counter that message. And even if a marginal gubernatorial candidate emerges, Democrats are so frightened to go on the record in support of tax increases that they’ll likely spend next summer and fall dancing away from one another, trying to duck the issue entirely. They know Clark County voters rejected a property tax increase for school construction last year by a 2-1 ratio.
Democrats are positioned to spend the campaign declaring their passion and support for teachers and schools, defending their inaction on the margins tax this year, and waffling on whether voters should back an initiative put forward by the teachers they say they love. Sound like a winning formula?
Party infrastructure is vitally important in elections. So are consultants and handlers. Voter registration margins are big factors. But, ultimately, campaigns come down to having good candidates. Having no candidate? Good luck with that.
Glenn Cook (email@example.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.