Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Everybody expects an election to feature a Republican fighting a Democrat.
But Democrats in Nevada seem hesitant to challenge Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who may well be on his way to coasting to re-election in 2014.
The lack of a challenger makes for insider-type gossip about whom the Democrats might choose, but that chatter ignores another possibility: Democrats might choose to back nobody against Sandoval.
If they have made the calculation that beating Sandoval is too difficult, backing no candidate for governor could keep an unexcited Republican electorate at home. After all, there’s no U.S. Senate race and no presidential race in 2014 to entice Republicans to vote.
So if the only marquee race is for governor, and there is no competition, then there’s no compelling race.
That scenario might make the election a bit of a snoozer. But it could help Democrats, who believe they have a better organization and a superior ability to turn out voters on Election Day. Democrats have about 100,000 more registered, active voters than Republicans in Nevada.
“It’s an interesting concept because there is an argument to be made that if there’s no top-of-the-ticket race, then the election for the down-ballot races comes down to who has the better infrastructure and better organization,” one Democratic operative said.
Democrats could then focus on keeping a majority in the state Senate and electing a Democratic lieutenant governor, which would throw a wrench into any possibility that Sandoval would run for U.S. Senate in 2016 or take a Cabinet appointment under a Republican president because Sandoval would have to vacate the governor’s office and hand the keys to a Democratic lieutenant governor.
So backing no Democrat makes some sense to some political followers.
“That’s always been an interesting dilemma and an interesting debate,” said Billy Vassiliadis, a top Nevada political consultant and CEO at R&R Partners, a Las Vegas advertising agency. “I think the consultants probably come down 50-50 and the pundits come down 50-50 (on that scenario).”
Although some Democrats may scoff at the scenario and demand a more liberal governor, others may have conceded that living with a moderate Republican who embraced key aspects of President Barack Obama’s health care law isn’t so bad.
In addition, Nevada’s governor shrugs off scandals, exudes optimism and polls well among Nevadans. His re-election campaign has secured funding from Nevada’s powerful mining and gaming industries.
Few Democrats want to get steamrolled as the Sandoval re-election train rolls toward the Nov. 4, 2014, election.
But Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the race should be competitive. Asked whether the Nevada Democratic Party will back a candidate for governor in 2014, he said: “Sure. Why wouldn’t we?”
The downside to the strategy of running nobody is that it assumes Sandoval will stay silent and not get involved in the lieutenant governor’s race and in state Senate races.
“The fear that you see on the Democratic side when you talk about that scenario is that it allows him to spend all the money and spread all the money around,” said a Nevada political operative doing work with Democrats. “Even if it’s noncompetitive, still he can expend all of those resources, and that would mean donating to other Republicans.”
What Democrats do largely depends on the decision of one man.
Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak has been publicly mulling a bid to challenge Sandoval but has said it’d be an uphill battle.
He’s not up for re-election in 2014. He has money left over from his commissioner campaign that he could pour into a race for governor. And operatives assume he’d be able to raise money from people who want to stay on the good side of the chairman of the Clark County Commission.
But if he sees no path to victory, he might decline to enter the race.
“He’s not the kind of guy to run to send messages,” Vassiliadis said. “He’s a very calculating, very deliberative guy. I would assume he’s waiting to see how this unfolds.”
He’s running out of time, however.
Few political consultants see any benefit in launching a statewide campaign during the holiday season. So any potential candidate would likely launch a campaign in January or February. The deadline to file for election is March 14.
Some big names have ruled out bids for the office.
Democratic Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, who is running for attorney general, aren’t seeking to be the next governor.
Republicans are still preparing Sandoval’s re-election campaign. "We fully expect an opponent,” said Jeremy Hughes, campaign manager for Sandoval.
There will be at least one other person on the ballot. A Democrat named Chris Hyepock has said he’s running for governor. But Reid did not mention Hyepock when talking about the governor’s race. He said the party has “pretty well combed over everyone” and that Sisolak and state Sen. Tick Segerblom “are the two names that have come out.”
“Somebody is going to file,” Vassiliadis said. “Does anybody credible file? Honest to God, I think it’s a week-by-week thing.”
Asked who the perfect candidate would be, Reid said, “Robert Redford at age 40.”