Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2021

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Nevada’s bizarro political world

Some end-of-the-week musings from your favorite pundit:

• Memo to the nation: Nevada has always been able to distinguish itself with its bizarre political dynamic, often providing fodder for national ridicule. But on the cusp of Campaign 2010, it strikes me that we may have reached a nadir in the depth and breadth of politicians who are either deeply unpopular and potentially unelectable or deeply embarrassing yet, perhaps, still electable. To wit:

In the three most important Nevada offices, we have politicians who are upside-down with voters. How many other states can claim ownership of a governor and two U.S. senators whose disapproval ratings exceed their approval ratings — and for such different reasons?

Gov. Jim Gibbons has done almost everything wrong a politician can — his approval numbers are in the teens. U.S. Sen. John Ensign has displayed a remarkable arrogance and self-delusion after national media reports (and more to come) of his attempt to cover up an affair and buy the silence (how did that work out?) of a cuckolded husband and former best friend — his approval ratings are now in the twenties. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has worn out his 40-year welcome with too many Nevadans — his approval figures are in the high 30s.

How many states can claim to have the top trio of elected officials languishing with potentially fatal numbers?

If that’s not quirky enough for Nevada-watchers, consider the predicament of the leaders of the two most prominent local governments in Nevada. Mayor Oscar Goodman is wildly popular in Las Vegas, but he is a national embarrassment because of his bacchanalia, his braggadocio and his boorishness. And County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, the Democrats’ only contender for governor, may have a vision for the state, but people don’t appreciate it — his numbers, like Reid the Elder’s, are upside-down, although half the state doesn’t know him (is that a blessing or a curse?).

It’s no wonder gubernatorial hopeful and ex-Judge Brian Sandoval has adopted the gag-inducing slogan, “A Reason to Believe Again,” considering how negatively voters here feel about their major elected officials. And it’s no wonder Reid the Elder plans to unsheath his trusty vaporizer next year, because the only way to beat voter negativity is with more negativity.

This would all be funny and stimulating for state political observers — if only we didn’t live here.

• Independents in Nevada: With all the chatter about nonpartisans, 15.4 percent of the vote in Nevada, being the key to elections this cycle, it’s instructive to see who those folks are. That’s especially true after those Tuesday results in Virginia and New Jersey showed independents going 2-to-1 for the GOP contenders.

Of the 184,276 independent voters in the state at the end of September, only a quarter are 55 and older, according to the secretary of state’s office. So three-quarters are younger voters, many of whom likely went for Barack Obama in 2008 — 68,000 of them are 34 and under.

Contrast this with demographic breakdowns of major parties provided by the secretary of state’s office: Thirty-six percent of Democrats are 55 and older while 40 percent of Republicans are in that group.

The younger skewing of independents here may provide both Reids with an opportunity to capture what Obama did and drive those voters back into the Democratic column a year hence. But, as many will point out, neither Reid at the top of the ticket will ever be compared to Obama as an inspirational figure, so that may be wishful thinking. But it will be worth keeping an eye on how that age breakdown changes as the election gets closer.

Final note: One of the great ironies of independents determining Harry Reid’s future: The slogan that launched his federal career was “Harry Reid: Independent Like Nevada.”

• Goodman governor watch, Part XXXXXVIII: His Honor was asked by the Sun’s Sam Skolnik on Thursday about running for governor, which he has previously said he would do only as an independent. As can happen only with the ever-evolving reality that is Goodmanworld, when Skolnik asked about a diminishing timeline, Goodman said, “If I were to run as a Democrat, it gets a little tighter than if I were to run as a nonpartisan.”

So read his lips — and don’t believe anything that comes out of them.

If Goodman were to run as a Democrat, Sandoval is all but a lock. If he runs as an independent, Sandoval is all but a lock, although it’s possible Goodman could surprise if people really are looking for a different kind of savior who can, ahem, give them a reason to believe again.

Run, Oscar, run.

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