Thursday, Aug. 28, 2003 | 9:47 a.m.
Richard Ziser launched his campaign for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, attacking Democrat Harry Reid as out of step with Nevadans' culture and social morals.
"Democrats enforce policies that interfere with family self-determination by forcing children to attend government schools without any choice," Ziser said at a rally outside the state GOP headquarters to announce his candidacy.
"They promote policies that prevent them from praying or pledging allegiance to our flag and country and they promote gun control, abortion and other teachings that violate the values of our families."
Ziser, the former chairman of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, said he planned to focus on fiscally-conservative ideas, strict adherence to the Constitution and a free enterprise system -- ideas that he said put him more in touch with Nevadans than Reid.
But Ziser also made some comments that place him outside the Republican Party.
When asked for his position on Yucca Mountain, Ziser at first blamed Democrats for 1987's so-called "Screw Nevada" bill that designated Yucca as the only site for the storage of the nation's high-level nuclear waste.
When pressed about whether Nevada should negotiate for benefits for the dump, he said: "Nevada needs to benefit in some way. Yes, we need to negotiate."
Reid's campaign manager, Sean Sinclair, said Ziser is out of step with a majority of Nevadans, including the Republican governor, senator and two Republican congressmen, about Yucca.
"That statement right there puts him out of the mainstream of Nevada," Sinclair said.
Ziser made a name for himself by successfully leading the ballot initiative, Question 2, to amend the state Constitution and define marriage as only between a man and woman.
The question passed in 2000 with 70 percent of the vote and was passed again in 2002 with 68 percent.
Ziser, a Christian conservative, said that with President Bush's recent comments on the need to define marriage the way Nevada voters has, he believes "the marriage issue will be a major issue in this race."
But Reid, a Mormon, is anti-abortion and supported Question 2 last year.
Sinclair said that while Ziser may try to paint Reid as opposed to mainstream ideas, "I think that a lot of positions that Harry Reid has are right in step with where most of Nevada is, and if another candidate wants to outdo him, they're going to be the ones out of step."
Ziser said Reid, the Senate's Democratic whip, has held up passage of late-term abortion bills, and has blocked Bush's judicial nominees.
"There's a big difference between how you voted and his leadership," Ziser said.
Michael Bowers, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, also said that is a difficult distinction to make.
"Harry Reid is pro-life, he's always been pro-life and Harry Reid has always been very conservative," Bowers said. "That's always been one of the problems Republicans have running against him."
Paul Brown, executive director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said Ziser may try to make a distinction between two men who are, relatively, social conservatives, but voters will not see the difference.
"Unfortunately, the constituency that he appeals too has really taken over an arm of the Republican Party," said Brown, a registered Democrat. "He may take it in the primary, but come the general, I don't think you'll see the middle-of-the-road Republicans voting for him. They will either vote for Harry Reid or skip the race."
Brown and Bowers also said some voters consider Ziser a "divisive" figure.
Ziser countered that label at his press conference by pointing to the success of Question 2.
"I must ask: How can the message be overwhelmingly accepted, yet the messenger be polarizing, when it appears that Question 2 was an issue that crossed all political boundaries?" Ziser said.
About 40 people showed up for Ziser's announcement, including Assemblywoman Valerie Weber, R-Las Vegas, and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas.
Rawson called Ziser "a man of integrity" and said he is committed to supporting the Republican nominee for Senate.
After Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., on Monday announced he would not challenge Reid, Ziser was the only Republican who decided to enter the race. Other Republicans, including Secretary of State Dean Heller, Treasurer Brian Krolicki and Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, are now weighing whether to run.
Rawson said he does not expect any of them to enter the race.
"I think they're careful people and there's a lot to lose," Rawson said.
Ziser, vice chairman of Nevada Concerned Citizens, lambasted special interests in politics, particularly "big government, big labor, big associations and big business," which he said controlled the 2003 Legislature and forced passage of the largest tax hike in history.
But when asked how he would raise money to challenge Reid, who already has a campaign fund of $3.1 million, Ziser said he would seek money from special interests that share his beliefs.
He also said he would seed his campaign with his own money, but declined to specify an amount.
Just two days after Gibbons' announcement, Ziser's campaign already had "Ziser for Senate" signs, and supporters were handing out business cards with his contact information.
Bowers said that while Reid has problems, he also can use his position in the Senate and on the Appropriations Committee to win federal funding for Nevada, and that's one reason for voters to keep him in office.
But he said Ziser has the organizational structure and "thousands of names in his Rolodex" to make him a likely candidate to win the Republican nomination.