Monday, July 7, 2008 | 2 a.m.
We’re walking down the street with Sean Fellows to see how many doors he can knock on, campaigning for the state Assembly, without mentioning he’s a Republican.
The party would be proud of him as a candidate. He’s got the looks, the manners and the pedigree to serve in politics. He’s one of the party’s most promising young recruits.
But there’s not one mention of his Republican affiliation in the brochures he’s handing out.
His party affiliation is also virtually absent on his campaign Web site. In the course of three morning hours over two days, he spoke with 10 voters, not broaching his party affiliation once. Three voters asked or alluded to it, and he didn’t hold back.
“When I can make the race about Sean, not just about being a Republican, I’ve been successful,” says Fellows, a reservist and former intelligence officer in operations over Afghanistan and Iraq, who comes across as a conservative-leaning moderate.
He’s running in District 29 against Democrat April Mastroluca.
Fellows’ life these days is laid out by his Palm digital assistant, which lists geographically every active voter in his district, no matter the party. He’s been visiting the homes of regular voters six days a week for the past five months.
Fellows is on his second pair of New Balance sneakers.
And he appears to have persuaded plenty of registered Democrats and Republican-leery Republicans to not limit their consideration to party identification alone.
He’s standing now in front of 61-year-old Democrat Hugh Kennedy, who has a “No Solicitors” sign stamped on his front door. They agree that the local public schools spend too much money on middle managers and not enough in the classrooms. Kennedy initially appears skeptical of Fellows, but he engages the Republican for 10 minutes on the subject.
Fellows does not mention to Kennedy that he is a Republican, and Kennedy does not ask.
Down Sedona Road, Democrat Sandra MacNeil pointedly asks Fellows if he’s partisan.
“I’m a Republican, but I serve Nevada first,” he says, clearly pleasing the 56-year-old MacNeil. “Are you a Democrat?”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” she replies. “You coming by, it holds extra water for me.”
At the door, Fellows typically introduces himself, details his background and how he came to view Nevada as home, jokes about how he has a “phone book of issues” and asks which of them are on their minds. He does not broach Nevada’s polarizing governor, Jim Gibbons, or the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, John McCain, whom Democrats have attempted to cast as the second coming of George W. Bush.
That proved to be an effective strategy with Democrat Gus Kokalis.
Kokalis, 57, admits he probably would have voted for Mastroluca by default had Fellows not stopped by. Now, he’s not sure. Kokalis, once a proud Republican, is so disgusted with his former party that he’s prepared to vote Democrat in each race this fall where he doesn’t know or know of the candidates.
Indeed, the Republican brand is so damaged nationally and statewide that the party itself is increasingly a hindrance for conservatives. Democrats recently captured three congressional seats long held by Republicans — seats in districts considered by political analysts to be safely Republican.
“A lot of times the public tends to group people together,” Mastroluca says. “It gives me an advantage, that the country is ready for change and ready to see things move forward.”
That could explain why Fellows’ strategy — trying to frame himself as more independent than partisan — is one increasingly practiced by Republicans, including to some degree McCain.
But the strategy figures to be more effective for a political neophyte running on a local level than for McCain, who has been an outspoken proponent of some of Bush’s most loathed policies.