Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, May 24, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Candidates filed campaign finance reports this week, revealing how much money they got in their quests for office and where that money came from. Here are four things the reports tell us about the state’s political races.
Donors are hedging bets on Republicans capturing the Senate
At the state level, the most important elections in 2012 will be the five state Senate races to determine control of the upper house. To take control, Republicans have to win four out of five of those races. Democrats currently have an 11 to 10 lead there.
Back in January, when the last campaign finance reports were due, the sentiment of business donors was made clear through donations: Republican-controlled political action committees and candidates significantly outraised Democratic candidates.
But the campaign finance reports submitted on Tuesday show that business donors are hedging those bets. While Senate Republican candidates still outraised Democrats in four out of five of the competitive seats, the disparity was by no means as great as it had been.
Two things have changed since January.
• Well-known lawmaker Sheila Leslie resigned her safe Senate seat to move to a new district and challenge Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, making that race competitive.
• Sen. Elizabeth Halseth, R-Las Vegas, resigned from her seat, putting that tossup district into play.
That makes the math for Republicans to take control of the Senate more difficult. And no matter the business interests’ preference about which party has control, they never want to be on the losing end.
“The truth of the matter is, they have to take four out of five Senate seats, and that’s very hard to do,” said one Republican lobbyist, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Companies are looking at this and are saying we better not put all our eggs in one basket.”
Gaming is sitting on the sidelines
In past years, campaign reports read as a journey up the Las Vegas Strip, with each property cutting a $5,000 check to a candidate.
But this cycle, gaming companies have been conspicuously tight-fisted in legislative races, no small matter for the state’s largest taxpayers, largest employers, and traditionally, largest political power.
Billy Vassiliadis, lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, said that because of term limits, the industry is meeting a lot of new candidates. All four legislative caucuses will have new leaders in 2013.
“There’s a renewed commitment to being less pro forma about contributions,” he said. “Term limits have created so many new faces ... They want to go through a more thorough and diligent process getting to know candidates both personally and on policy.”
Vassiliadis said that the companies would indeed donate, but said it would be more targeted.
Don’t challenge the speaker in waiting
Politics is apparently like baseball, with a bunch of unwritten rules that no one notices until they’re broken. One of those: Don’t challenge a caucus leader.
Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, who is next in line to be Assembly speaker, was drawn into an evenly split seat after redistricting last session.
Republicans recruited Wes Duncan, an Air Force veteran and lawyer who served in Iraq prosecuting al-Qaida.
But Conklin has the money. He raised $188,000 since January, compared with Duncan who raised $41,577.
Businesses have shied away from donating to Duncan directly. His large checks came almost exclusively from other Assembly Republicans. The Las Vegas Sands, the Nevada Motor Transport Association and conservative businessman Monte Miller rounded out his list of top contributors.
The establishment has the money.
You don’t get to be the establishment by being poor. In fact, the establishment sits at the spigot of campaign money.
Senate Republicans learned from the Nevada Democratic machine this year and decided to endorse candidates pre-primary.
In the two most competitive Republican primaries, the candidate endorsed by the caucus raised significantly more than the outside challengers.
In Senate District 9, the endorsed Mari Nakashima St. Martin raised almost $114,000, while her primary opponent Brent Jones raised $33,000. In SD18, endorsed Assemblyman Scott Hammond raised $127,000 versus $6,888 for Assemblyman Richard McArthur.
On the Democratic side, Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, has buckets more money to fend off a challenge from progressives and candidate Patricia Spearman. Lee, who dropped out of a congressional run and has since been blessed by party elders, raised $168,000. Spearman raised $7,255.
A liberal coalition backing Spearman raised just $55,000.