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Did ‘name recognition’ help two primary candidates?

Some political upsets are just plain quirky, and I’m not talking about Sharron Angle turning Sue Lowden topsy-turvy.

How in the world did perennial candidate John Bonaventura put out $1,400 worth of signs (his only reported expense) and in the three-way Democratic primary for Las Vegas constable, unseat the likable 12-year incumbent Robert Gronauer, known as “Bobby G.”?

Bonaventura comes from a well-known family, the Bonaventuras and the Bonaventures. His wife, Gloria Bonaventura, ran for the Clark County clerk’s job, but lost to incumbent Diana Alba. So the name can’t carry that much clout. Retired District Judge Joe Bonaventure of Binion trial fame became a television celebrity. His son Joe Bonaventure is a respected Las Vegas justice of the peace, well-rated in “Judging the Judges.”

But John Bonaventura’s own name has been tarnished over the years and he’s turned into a perennial candidate. He ran for the Assembly and served one term but was dissed in a Review-Journal survey as the worst freshman legislator of 1993 . (Of course, Angle received “worst legislator” distinction twice, and look where she is today.)

Bonaventura has run to be county treasurer, county commissioner and state senator, losing each time.

This cycle, Bonaventura, a correctional officer and security officer, shot for a job that is pretty much ignored, even though millions of dollars are handled by the office. The Las Vegas constable’s office of 51 employees has an annual budget of $4.6 million. In years past, it had a reputation as a cesspool, but under Gronauer it improved. The office costs are paid in fees earned by serving orders from Justice Court, such as arrest warrants and those unpleasant orders for evictions and garnishment of wages.

In 2004, when I wrote a column suggesting that the younger Joe Bonaventure was riding his daddy’s popularity by running for a judicial job but not using his photo, cousin John Bonaventura was angered. He e-mailed me gleefully anticipating my death, predicting that soon I would “die of old age or something” which sounded like a threat. He hoped I might die like journalist Ned Day, who died of a heart attack while vacationing in Hawaii, although there have been suspicions he was “hit.”

How could he win?

“I, as a candidate, didn’t do something right,” Gronauer said Friday. A mailer that was supposed to go out to 33,000 voters went out to only 6,000, he said. Hotel Employees Referral mailed it only to people with mail-in ballots. Maybe that would have made a difference. The third candidate was African-American. Maybe that pulled votes away. Bonaventura was first on the ballot and some say that’s worth two or three points. And the Bonaventura name itself pulled votes, Gronauer believes.

Gronauer’s campaign finance report showed he raised nearly $75,000 and spent $42,000 in the Democratic primary. He donated to other campaigns. He took volunteers out for dinner. And he paid for signs and ads in publications, not to mention paying for those 27,000 unmailed political fliers. He’s still trying to figure it out.

Bonaventura will face the winner of the Republican primary, Peter Gariano, in November.

Gronauer’s defeat wasn’t the only election quirk of note involving a familiar name.

Did Robert Goodman come in second in the lieutenant governor’s race on the Democratic side because people mistook him for Mayor Oscar Goodman? He didn’t ask for money and spent almost nothing, yet beat out Paul Murad and Robert Randazzo, who both spent big bucks advertising themselves, as did the ultimate primary winner, Reno City Councilwoman Jessica Sferrazza.

Not one savvy pundit would have predicted Goodman’s strong showing or Gronauer’s loss.

The uncertainty of the final outcome in any election is what creates bona fide political junkies. We love the mystery of the final outcome, the logic and the illogic, the drama and the comedy, the expected and the unexpected. Some of it made sense and some of it didn’t. And last Tuesday, it was all there, up and down the ballot, from the heartbreaking losses to the unexpected wins.

Guess the lesson here is to take seriously anyone named Bonaventura, Bonaventure or Goodman.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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