Candidates hope nicknames help them stand out


Batman. Mr. Clean. Mr. Truth.

They sound like a band of superheroes ready to clean up the dimly lit corners of the city's underbelly.

But they're actually just ordinary residents of Clark County and beyond, hoping these nicknames will get them elected to serve the community from government offices statewide.

Most of these hopefuls -- at least a dozen candidates with unusual nicknames have filed for the primary election -- will argue that their quirky monikers make them stand out on the crowded ballot.

U.S. Senate candidate Eduardo "Mr. Clean" Hamilton said a successful campaign focuses on political branding.

"A brand name is important in business and in marketing, and a brand name is also important in politics," said Hamilton, a Democrat. "People don't have time. You have to attract them quickly. You have to be creative.

"It's great when people recognize you."

To create a "clean" image in a voter's mind, Hamilton said, he wants people to think of the bald, muscular, earring-wearing cartoon character who saves the day with the single wipe of a sponge.

In places such as Texas, 2006 gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn sued the secretary of state to have the nickname "Grandma" on the ballot, but it was ruled that "Grandma" was a slogan Strayhorn had used for a previous election. Texas election officials allowed another candidate, Richard Friedman, to use his nickname, "Kinky," because he had used it for 40 years as an author and musician. Both candidates lost to Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Nevada state law allows the use of ballot nicknames, said Larry Lomax, registrar of voters for Clark County.

In Nevada's 1992 U.S. Senate election, one candidate ran as "God Almighty," according to voting information in the "Political History of Nevada in 2006." That wouldn't be allowed under revisions to the law made in 2003.

The law, NRS 293.565, states that nicknames can be used as long as they are shorter than 10 letters and are accompanied by quotation marks. The moniker has to appear before the surname of the candidate and cannot indicate any political, economic, social or religious views.

But could this creativity mean the difference between winning and losing the election?

David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said voters do not view these candidates as potential contenders in any election.

"They're obviously not going to win," he said. "They're not going to raise any money. It kind of adds humor; it's almost a protest. They're the least ones to get elected."

However, Damore said candidates with nicknames indicate an open democratic process through which voters have more options.

"It's healthy that it shows you don't have to be a millionaire or have lots of connections to get on the ballot," he said. "That's a good thing for democracy."

In a smaller community, voters are more apt to remember a candidate with a nickname, said Dave "Batman" Thompson, who is running for Justice of the Peace in Searchlight.

The 47-year-old Metro police officer said he earned his superhero nickname in childhood because he would stand up to bullies in school and it carried into his veteran law enforcement career.

A Batman emblem has stayed in his patrol car for at least 15 years.

"On the outside, it's a little cheesy, but it really does help. Everybody knows it," Thompson said. "It lightens the mood. Everybody knows what Batman does. He's the protector of the night -- the symbolism and that kind of stuff."

But the nickname does present a challenge to some voters, he acknowledged.

"It's hard to keep the difference between this for some voters," Thompson said. "It's a serious office, and this is a joking way to approach it. This isn't a joke; we're not treating it as a joke."

If anything, it makes a political candidate more appealing through a "humanistic approach," said Jeff "Sarge" Durbin, an Independent American Party candidate for Clark County Commission.

"I think by me using a simple common name, a term a lot of people are aware of, it brings me closer to them," said Durbin, a 23-year veteran of the United States Air Force. "It's a respectful name that rolls off the tongue. It makes it more relaxed."

Durbin retired from the Air Force in 1996 as a master sergeant, and all of his colleagues called him "Sarge."

"Even my wife and kids call me that."

Contact Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

 

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