Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008 | 2 a.m.
With the primaries behind them, this is the Democrats’ goal as they look to the state Assembly elections in November:
To occupy at least 28 seats in the 42-seat Assembly — one more than they have now — to give them a veto-proof majority. Democratic incumbents are seeking reelection to 24 of those seats, so the push is to bring four new Democrats into the fold.
What they have going for them is a surge in Democratic voter registration and an energized Democratic Party in Nevada and nationwide.
But Assembly races can be dicey because they are fought on such a local scale that an effective grass-roots campaign can overcome party loyalties.
“The personal connection is absolutely key,” said Democrat John Oceguera, the Assembly’s majority leader. “But in an Assembly district with generally 50,000 to 55,000 people, it’s tough to reach out to everybody. So fundraising is also key.”
There are seven seats in Southern Nevada that are most vulnerable to changing parties, and two up north.
Two Henderson races that are pitting political neophytes against each other: Republican Jon Ozark and Democrat Ellen Spiegel in District 21, which leans Republican, and Republican Sean Fellows and Democrat April Mastroluca in District 29, which tilts Democratic.
To help overcome the registration disadvantage in his district, the 28-year-old Fellows has built a substantial money lead, according to an Aug. 5 filing with the Nevada secretary of state’s office. Fellows, who is widely viewed as one of the Republicans’ best hopes, also got a considerable head start in campaigning over Mastroluca.
Mastroluca and the Democrats, however, are claiming a 6-point lead based on local party polling.
The 40-year-old Mastroluca, who works for the national Parent-Teacher Association, now thinks she has caught up to Fellows in terms of canvassing and voter outreach.
“For months now, we’ve been seeing the Democratic wave,” Fellows said. “We’re significantly behind the curve when it comes to registration. But I’m following (the old) mind-set that all politics is local.”
Fellows, who has a military background, figures to appeal to independents, which may not be true for all of the Republican newcomers.
Republican incumbents Francis Allen and Bob Beers, both moderates, lost the Republican nomination to conservative upstarts unambiguously protective of the right’s core platform: no new taxes and limited government. Their defeats were championed by some of the party’s most fervent conservatives, though not the party itself.
Allen and Beers were replaced by much more conservative candidates, Richard McArthur and Ozark, respectively.
Erik Herzik, a professor of political science at University of Nevada, Reno, described the strategy to knock off Allen and Beers for candidates with stronger conservative profiles as “a classic, right-wing stupid move” because this election cycle figures to favor moderate, if not left-leaning, candidates.
Conservative blogger Chuck Muth, who strongly endorsed the efforts to oust Allen and Beers, argues that the strategy was sound for these two districts because they’re traditionally Republican.
But in each district, Democrats are edging forward in registration.
Republican consultant Ryan Erwin, though, believes Beers’ Henderson district remains sufficiently conservative to carry the day for Ozark, a 26-year-old hotel revenue manager at the Rio.
Spiegel, the Democratic opponent in that district, began campaigning last year and didn’t have a primary opponent.
“She’s the workhorse of the group,” Oceguera said. “I don’t care if it’s been a yard sale, church bazaar or HOA function, she’s been there.”
But Oceguera concedes: “I would have rather seen her against Bob Beers. Beers had a record; Ozark looks like a clean-cut kid.”
In District 4, the 65-year-old McArthur, who defeated Allen in the Republican primary, faces Democrat Craig Ballew, a newcomer to politics with a meager fundraising effort. The Democrats are banking on Ballew’s connections as an educator and long ties to the community while McArthur is strutting his credentials as a retired pilot for the Air Force and retired special agent with the FBI.
One of the more intriguing races is for the seat of District 5 in Las Vegas, which is being vacated by Republican Valerie Weber. Democrat Marilyn Dondero Loop and Republican Donna Toussaint are well-liked by members of both parties, and are praised by leaders across the political spectrum. Loop was an educator for more than three decades, and her mother is a retiring state higher ed regent. Toussiant is a longtime city volunteer and activist who has wowed Republican leaders with her voter outreach. She’s made hundreds of calls to voters in the district. But the Democrats have a substantial lead in registered voters, with 1,800 more than the Republicans.
Then there’s an open race with a twist in District 23.
The incumbent, Democrat Rosemary Womack, is not seeking reelection, opening the door to Allison Herr, a family law attorney. Herr faces Republican Melissa Woodbury, the daughter of retiring County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, one of the most respected public servants in the valley.
Can the elder Woodbury help his daughter, a longtime teacher who specializes in public education? It’ll be a tall order for Melissa Woodbury, 39, regardless. The Democrats hold a considerable registration advantage of 11 points in the district.
But Herzik notes that Democrats in Clark County traditionally have done a poor job with voter turnout.
“That’s a race that’s an opportunity for Woodbury,” he said.
Woodbury believes retail politics — canvassing a community by going door to door — could decide the race.
“It’s all about how we run our campaign,” she said. “Getting to know voters could make the difference.”
There are a couple of other races political observers are watching in Southern Nevada: former Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Martin’s bid to upend incumbent Chad Christensen in the sprawling District 13, which includes much of the western part of the valley, and the Democrats’ efforts to steal District 2 with the retirement of Republican Garn Mabey. Martin, Democratic leaders say, has shown a willingness to spend his own money, and they believe Christensen is vulnerable.
But Erwin expects that John Hambrick, the former county Republican chairman who hopes to succeed Mabey, will defeat Democratic newcomer Carlos Blumberg, an attorney.