Going against the “political establishment” is a risky move in Nevada, a purple state where every hard-fought election could shift control of the Statehouse and on Capitol Hill.
Yet some Nevada candidates are running grass-roots campaigns against opponents with much deeper pockets.
State Sen. Patricia “Pat” Spearman is one of five Democratic candidates in the 4th Congressional District, where former Rep. Steven Horsford has plenty of campaign cash and the backing of Nevada’s largest union.
A political operative told Spearman she should “step aside” to let Horsford win the Democratic nomination.
“I said, ‘You must be out of your mind. You must be kidding me,’” said Spearman, an African-American who is gay and served more than 20 years in the Army. “At that moment I felt this rush of frustration come over me. The last time I checked, the people are voting for this position, and I’m running because I’m qualified.”
Despite her qualifications, Horsford landed endorsements from the likes of former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris. He has raised $360,194 as of May 18, compared with Spearman’s $109,000.
On the Republican side, two gubernatorial candidates hope to defeat well-funded Attorney General Adam Laxalt.
While state Treasurer Dan Schwartz acknowledged that he isn’t the GOP’s “leading candidate,” he believes he’s more qualified than Laxalt.
“He doesn’t have the business or finance experience, but he feels entitled,” Schwartz said Friday. “A number of people have told me, ‘Adam is going to win, so why donate to you?’ The reason is I’m a better candidate. But there’s silence on the end of the line.”
Fellow GOP candidate Jared Fisher said some of Nevada’s biggest political players — casinos, developers and business executives — have recoiled at the idea of backing a “nonestablishment” candidate.
“They don’t care whether you know anything,” he said. “They just care whether you’ll be able to fulfill their interests once you’re elected. So I went back to being grass-roots, and we got tons of support.”
Finance reports show that Fisher and Schwartz have hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash, but most of their funds have come in the form of personal loans to their campaigns.
By comparison, Democratic candidates Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani have raised $1.4 million and $810,000 as of May 18, respectively. Their latest campaign finance reports have not yet been filed.
Marketing consultant Lisa Mayo-DeRiso is representing a slate of first-time candidates in the midterm election, including Fisher and Tim Bedwell, who is running for Clark County sheriff.
Mayo-DeRiso said 2018 could be the year for dark horse candidates.
“A lot of people are anti-incumbent, anti-establishment,” she said. “I’ve been going out to the early voting sites every day for the last couple of weeks, and voters want new faces and a new direction.”
Here are other candidates who have landed at least one high-level endorsement and could send political shockwaves this year.
— Scott LaFata, a Republican running for lieutenant governor, has garnered support from veterans groups, including the Nevada Veterans Association.
— Reuben D’Silva, a Democrat who is vying to unseat incumbent Rep. Dina Titus, has been endorsed by the Clark County Education Association.
— Marco Hernandez, a Democratic union leader running against state Sen. Tick Segerblom for an open seat on the Clark County commission.
— Michelle Mortensen, a Republican and former TV reporter who is running for Congressional District 3 and has raised $131,000.
— Paul Nimsuwan, a Marine veteran running for Assembly District 35, has self-funded his campaign to the tune of $69,200 and snagged an endorsement from the Service Employees International Union Nevada Local 1107.