AP Photo/Cathleen Allison
Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Regardless of your political bent, the Democratic political machine in Nevada is something to be admired, with its combination of professionalized campaigns, media operations and fundraising. State Senate Republicans, stuck in the minority for the past four years, have stopped envying and are trying to emulate it.
In an effort to take control of the state Senate, Republican caucus members are building a bigger political operation. And that, of course, starts with money.
But other factors and political currents could help their efforts.
Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, who’s trying to position himself as the next leader of the caucus, is holding a Sept. 7 fundraiser. Attached to the invitation, and identified as “hosts,” is a long list drawn from Nevada business and political circles, including gaming executives, mining companies, political operatives and conservative business leaders.
“I think it’s a sign that the business community is ready for the Senate to go Republican in 2013,” Roberson said. “I think the business community understands after this past session that there should be balance in the Legislature. At least one house should be Republican.”
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said, “We’re working to professionalize the political operation of the caucus, from fundraising to (independent expenditures) to candidate recruitment and training.”
Democrats hold an 11-10 lead over Republicans in the Senate and face significant challenges to keeping their majority.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, is considering running for Congress, limiting his role as a caucus fundraiser and organizer.
Six other Democratic senators are either looking to run for some other office, are termed out or considering not running for re-election.
That leaves a relatively thin bench of four Democratic senators certain to return — Mo Denis, Mark Manendo and David Parks, all of Las Vegas, and Sheila Leslie of Reno.
On top of that, there is a sentiment among some that having the Assembly controlled by one party and the Senate controlled by the other would breed more business-friendly policy.
One Democratic business lobbyist said, “The business community would definitely like to see a split Legislature again.”
Horsford was a known quantity and respected for his policy and political skills, the lobbyist said, adding that the political establishment hasn’t worked as much with the party’s four remaining senators.
“Senate Democrats are as focused as we’ve ever been in keeping the majority,” Horsford said in an interview. “We’re not focused on having fancy dinners. We’re focused on a lower unemployment rate, getting people back to work, getting our economy growing again.”
He said political activity will become more visible “once legislative boundaries are approved by the court.”
(Horsford said he is not ready to make an announcement about whether he’ll run for Congress.)
Denis, D-Las Vegas, is the name most often mentioned to lead that caucus if Horsford does not seek re-election.
Denis confirmed he’d be interested in leading the caucus.
“We think the business community understands and will get behind somebody who works together with folks, who’s level headed and thinks and does what’s best for Nevada,” he said.
Leslie, the only senator definitely returning who has been in leadership before, said as the only northern Democratic senator, it would be difficult for her to be elected leader.
She acknowledged that there will likely be a political fight over control of the Senate, but noted the districts still have not been drawn, so candidates can’t even be recruited.
Roberson, she said, “is desperately trying to get into leadership, so he’s trying to make these big showy stands. That’s not our focus.”
She warned of Washington-like partisanship and stalemate if Roberson is the majority leader.
But the uncertainty over the future of the Democrats appears to be hurting their chances at holding onto the Senate.
Another lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said clients weren’t ready to give to Democrats yet. One reason is that is they don’t know who will be in charge next session.
“How can you contribute money to a caucus when they don’t have a leader and half their members aren’t coming back?” the lobbyist said.