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Flores running for much more than lieutenant governor

You could be forgiven if you thought two-term Assemblywoman Lucy Flores was announcing her campaign for governor on Saturday, and not lieutenant governor.

The state Democratic Party issued news releases before and after the event. There were statements of support from pretty much every prominent Democrat, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, to state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange, to state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis. Even one-time foe Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who became speaker of the Assembly despite Flores’ early support for rival Assemblyman William Horne, weighed in to endorse Flores.

About the only figure in the Democratic Party who didn’t email remarks was the Famous Democratic Chicken mascot. But he probably clucked approvingly nonetheless.

Why this much publicity for the person whose job essentially revolves around promoting the state to tourists and presiding over the Senate every other year, for the only constitutional office that’s considered part-time employment? Why the governor-level press rollout?

Because, whether they like it or not, Lucy Flores is the top-of-the-ticket candidate for the Nevada Democratic Party. And they all know it.

Sure, we’re only three days into the election-filing season, and yes, Reid has promised a well-known Democrat will step forward to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. (So far, four registered Democrats have stepped forward for the chance, with more rumored to be on the way. But their chances of beating the well-funded, popular incumbent can charitably be compared to the chances of NASA selecting me to pilot the next space shuttle mission. And there aren’t any more space shuttle missions.)

That leaves Flores to do what a ticket-topping candidate usually does: Excite the Democratic base, fire up the various constituencies (in Flores’ case, women and Hispanic voters should be no problem) and give voters a reason to come to the polls. It’s a surprising change for a member of a younger, more obstreperous class of freshman lawmakers who came to Carson City in the era of term limits. Frustrated with what they saw as the slow pace of progress, they irked some of their party elders with their zeal.

It was probably not supposed to be this way. Despite Sandoval’s popularity, Democrats assumed they’d have a high-profile challenger in his race, somebody such as Secretary of State Ross Miller or Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a candidate with a well-known name and statewide record of winning. But Cortez Masto opted to not run for anything, and Miller opted for her job.

Then Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak — who has the qualification all party-builders love the most, the ability to fund his own campaign — decided he’d rather not spend the cash. And that came only after state Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he probably wouldn’t mount a sacrificial-lamb campaign that would be long on traditional Democratic issues but short on winning potential.

Hence the importance of having Flores in the No. 2 spot, which would make it harder for Sandoval to leave office mid-term, to run for another office or accept another job, because she’d become the state’s first Latina governor automatically if Sandoval abdicated.

Flores is running a non-traditional campaign for the job, telling the Review-Journal’s Laura Myers that the traditional duties of lieutenant governor won’t constrain her efforts. “I see it as an opportunity to bring my fresh perspective to Nevada. Tourism and economic development are very important, but that’s a narrow view of the job.”

In fact, the lieutenant governor can introduce three bills in each session of the Legislature, and Flores made clear she doesn’t intend to burn hers on frivolous subjects. Instead, she said she’ll try to champion an issue such as education. “Education has never been a priority in Nevada,” she said. “And it’s tied to economic development. You can’t attract businesses if you don’t have an educated workforce.”

Spoken just like a top-of-the-ticket candidate.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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