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Las Vegas council candidate Diaz picks up big endorsements

Vying for a seat on the Las Vegas City Council, former Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz has scored high-profile endorsements from Nevada’s U.S. senators, reinforcing her political clout and influential connections ahead of April’s primary election.

Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, publicly backed Diaz on Monday in statements provided to reporters. Cortez Masto described Diaz as “an ethical leader,” while Rosen said Diaz is “without doubt the most qualified candidate.”

“We need a leader who will take the job seriously,” Diaz said in a statement, “and I am running on my strengths as a dedicated public servant who won’t misuse the public trust.”

The endorsements were perhaps as notable for who did not receive them. In terms of politically battled-tested candidates for Ward 3, only former Rep. Ruben Kihuen, who spent 10 years in the Nevada Legislature and served a term in Congress, has a resume that can match Diaz’s eight-year tenure.

But if Kihuen was at all concerned that the two major endorsements had helped Diaz claim the title as the experienced legislator candidate, he did not show it Tuesday.

“East Las Vegas needs a local representative with my record of working on the neighborhood issues that affect people everyday,” Kihuen said.

He added that he respects Rosen and Cortez Masto and enjoyed campaigning and serving in Washington with them, suggesting he did not feel rebuked by their support of an opponent.

“When elected, I look forward to establishing a relationship with the senators’ offices,” he said, “to deliver the services that our community desperately needs.”

The insertion of two senators into a city contest is interesting, and their endorsement of Diaz appears to be “a slap in the face of Kihuen, especially,” said Dan Lee, an assistant professor of political science at UNLV.

While the endorsements further legitimize Diaz’s candidacy to represent Ward 3, other contenders for the seat were unanimous Tuesday in casting the race as a contest of local-level reputation where D.C. cachet matters less than community appeal.

“This election is not going to be based on endorsements,” candidate and former Las Vegas parks commissioner David Lopez said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to be who has the most experience at City Hall, the local level.”

Melissa Clary, a Department of Veteran Affairs project manager and longtime advocate in the Huntridge neighborhood, said she has the support of local leaders who are more closely tied to voters.

“While Olivia has spent her time in politics to have the Washington representatives endorsing her, I spent my time every day making a difference in our neighborhoods,” Clary said.

Special-education teacher Aaron Bautista, another of the seven total candidates in the race, similarly dismissed the importance of previous political experience, saying that longtime lawmakers are disconnected from the average voter.

Lee said in low-information and nonpartisan elections, voters might have difficulty in choosing a preferred candidate, so name recognition does matter.

“That’s where I think getting an endorsement from big state figures who are now national figures is a big pickup for Diaz,” he said.

But he also said the counterargument was “solid,” even if perhaps overstated.

Diaz suggested she would not be resting on her legislative experience. In her statement announcing the endorsements Monday, she said she looked forward to “honoring their trust in my candidacy by listening to constituents as I knock on every door, earning each and every vote, so I can partner with them on the issues that matter to families across the city.”

Still, Shawn Mooneyham underscored his political novice status as a badge of distinction because he was “a real person” whose “been in the trenches working.”

And for restaurateur Mingo Collaso, political experience in this race was tantamount to using the City Council seat as a steppingstone for higher office.

“I’m seeking only one endorsement,” he said, “that of my neighbors.”

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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