Winning election to public office in Nevada isn’t easy to do

CARSON CITY — Dozens of people begin filing today to run for elective offices.

A lot of them will be running just because they want to see their names on the ballot. Others will be well-meaning people who have deluded themselves into thinking they can win. But only a few will run with the knowledge and resources necessary to win.

Running for office is not just plopping down $300 to file for governor or $100 to run for the state Legislature or county commission.

If you are going to win, then plan on working harder than you have your entire life, spending a lot of money, giving up your privacy and asking every friend to help.

“We still have a lot of Mr. Smiths (Goes to Washington) out there in American politics,” said Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. “Citizens wake up and think they can make a difference. They don’t see anyone addressing an issue, and they think they are the one. They may be eaten alive.”

To actually win a race, just being idealistic and paying a filing fee aren’t enough.


First it’s about money, having more or about the same in campaign contributions and personal wealth as your opponent.

Second, it helps to live in a district where your party has an advantage in voter registration. If your party has the most voters, and you’re the only candidate from your party in the race, you probably will win.

Third, you need to have a pleasant personality — no one votes for sourpusses.

And walk door to door to meet the voters.

And show up at every campaign event.

You also need to take positions on issues that affect the people you would represent. So read the newspaper and watch TV news programs. Memorize short statements on your views on issues.

And don’t start off your political career by running for Congress or governor or any of the statewide constitutional offices, Lokken said. Those who do without any experience cannot win.

OK, prospective candidates, let’s start with money.

You insist upon running for governor? Let’s see. Gov. Brian Sandoval already has raised more than $3 million for his campaign. Big-name Democrats knew that was an impossible hurdle to jump and decided not to run.

So you still are going to step in and challenge him? Where’s your big campaign war chest?

You also will need issues to bring to your campaign.

What issues might topple Sandoval? He supported extending tax increases to provide more money for schools and state programs.

Is that going to hurt him much? Not likely because most Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature voted with him.

He signed the bill creating the driving authorization card for people in the country illegally. So did most legislators, who argued that they aren’t helping such immigrants, but recognizing that roads will be safer if all people are required to pass driving tests.

The joke going around Carson City is that Democrats and moderate Republicans actually have a candidate — Sandoval — while conservative Republicans are the ones without someone to back with their votes.


Money also talks in legislative races. In 2012, the candidates who raised the most money won nine of the 12 contested state Senate races and 28 of the 33 Assembly races. To carve out a 266-vote victory in a Reno state Senate race, Republican Greg Brower raised $703,000 for a job that pays about $8,800 per 120-day session. Losing Democrat Sheila Leslie raised $483,000.

In 2010, winning state Senate candidates spent an average of $213,000, or more than double the amount spent by their average competitor. Winning Assembly candidates that year spent an average of $146,000, or seven times what the average loser spent.

The party with the most registered voters generally wins, too. Democrats hold a 77,000 registered voters advantage in Nevada. That didn’t hurt Sandoval or Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki during their races in 2010. But with few exceptions, it is a determining factor in legislative races.

Rural Nevada is predominantly Republican. Take Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, in District 17. There are 36,000 Republicans and 18,000 Democrats in his district.

Democrats often don’t even put candidates on the ballots in rural Nevada because they cannot win. No rural legislators are Democrats.

Or how about Assembly District 1. Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, holds this seat, and Democrats have a 2-to-1 registration advantage.

In most legislative seats in urban Clark County, Democrats hold decided majorities. In Boulder City and more rural parts of the county, Republicans usually win because their party holds majorities there.


Walking and knowing issues helps. Take Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas. He has consistently won big in District 2 where Republicans have a modest 1,600 registered voter advantage.

Hambrick said that before he ran for office, he had served as Clark County Republican chairman and regularly walked door to door on behalf of Sandoval and other Republicans.

“I had a working knowledge of the system when I first ran,” he said. “Too many candidates don’t. Then Nancy (his wife) and I walked six days a week. The voters want to see you.”

Hambrick said he had examined the district and determined its greatest needs were reducing crime and improving the economy.

He based his campaign around those issues and developed knowledge about other issues.

Too often, he said, candidates just put their money down out of ego. They want to see their names on the election ballot.

But to win, you have to know the issues, the needs of your district and be willing to walk in the hottest of days, he said.

“I won’t say always, but hard work does sometimes beat money.”

Lokken agrees.

He remembers that Howard Rosenberg, a University of Nevada, Reno professor, won a seat on the state Board of Regents with a next-to-nothing budget. Rosenberg, however, also had a television show where he rated movies. Few candidates have that kind of previous media exposure.


If you are going to run, you also need a full team of campaign workers, including volunteers who will walk on your behalf. You also need a campaign manager and treasurer to keep track of your fundraising and an Internet-savvy person who can post the required information on the secretary of state’s website.

Come March 24, you must post your financial disclosure statement. Your first campaign contributions and expenditures report are due May 20.

On your financial disclosure statement, you list your sources of income, debtors, property holdings and any gifts worth more than $200 you receive. You don’t have to reveal the amount you earn, but some candidates do.

Expect reporters to check records to see whether you have a criminal record or have been involved in a bankruptcy or a foreclosure. If you want to avoid even more embarrassment, tell them before they ask.

Of course, you don’t have to show up at the Clark County Election Department or the secretary of state’s office by March 14 to run for an office you know you cannot win.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter @edisonvogel.