EDITORIAL: Governor’s race a one-man show

Never has so much opposition amounted to such an insignificant challenge. Nine Democrats are running for their party’s gubernatorial nomination and the right to challenge incumbent Republican Brian Sandoval. None of them have a chance.

The state Democratic Party won’t back any of the unknown candidates. There will be no campaign rallies. There will be no fundraising dinners or social media campaigns. Fellow Democratic candidates down the ticket will not waste precious resources trying to topple Nevada’s popular governor.

The abdication cements a loss for the Democratic Party — and a loss for voters as well.

Friday marked the last day candidates could file for offices that appear on the 2014 ballot. Although U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has built a Democratic Party infrastructure that is superior to what passes for a Republican Party machine in every way, it was telling that no Democratic office holder with name recognition and a track record of election victories was willing to take on Gov. Sandoval.

He is a moderate who works across the aisle. He has steered the state away from policies that would hinder its economic recovery — on Monday, the state announced Nevada led the nation in year-over-year job growth in January and, finally, no longer had the nation’s worst unemployment rate. Gov. Sandoval, a former assemblyman, gaming regulator, attorney general and federal judge, is at once thoughtful and disciplined, and so likable that Democrats can’t make any mud stick.

Campaigns aren’t just about people, however. They’re about ideas. Voters are best served by campaigns that feature rigorous debate and contrasting positions on the issues that affect them. Too often, elections are dominated by tired talking points and party-approved messaging, or by attacks on a candidate’s missteps. Because Gov. Sandoval has provided no easy targets for potential opponents, any Democrat intent on beating him would have to campaign on ideas, on an entirely different vision for the state. And there’s only one credible way for a Democrat to do that against Gov. Sandoval: run to the left of center.

It wouldn’t sell.

It would have been instructive for voters to see a Democratic candidate specify which taxes should be increased to boost state spending. And it would have been beneficial to hear Gov. Sandoval explain his own opinions on tax policy, economic development and the importance of maintaining a business climate that encourages job creation. Gov. Sandoval and his challenger would have been forced to stake out positions to win votes, positions they would be judged upon.

Now Gov. Sandoval is essentially unopposed. And he’ll have every incentive to run a cautious campaign and coast to re-election. Yes, there will be a Democrat on November’s ballot, but that Democrat will lack the funding and support to command the public’s attention.

We hope Gov. Sandoval still engages in a campaign of ideas — even if Democrats have none to offer in response.