Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Published Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 | 6:50 p.m.
Updated Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 | 8:53 p.m.
Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak announced Monday night he will not challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval for the governor's office in this year's election.
The announcement leaves the Nevada Democratic Party bereft of potential candidates less than a month before the filing deadline and effectively concedes the election to Sandoval unless Nevada Democrats have an independently wealthy candidate hiding in the wings.
During an appearance on Ralston Reports, Sisolak told host Jon Ralston "I will not be running for governor this year."
Although Democratic President Barack Obama won Nevada in 2012 and Democrats have a voter registration advantage in this state, Sandoval appears to be very difficult to beat.
“The governor has very high polling and high favorability ratings, and he’s raised a ton of money, so it would take someone who would say ‘I’m going to try to climb Mt Everest for you,’ ” said Billy Vassiliadas, CEO of R&R Partners, a Las Vegas advertising agency, and a Nevada political expert who advised Sisolak on his campaign.
Sandoval also has the state’s slowly improving economy on his side, a trend that aides the incumbent governor in his reelection bid.
Sisolak, a Democrat, said he seriously considered challenging the Republican Sandoval, who was elected governor in 2010, but ultimately decided against it. He gave several reasons, including a reluctance to go negative against Sandoval, something he felt he'd have to do to be competitive.
Sisolak would also need money to beat the governor. Sandoval raised more than $3 million in 2013. Sisolak brought in less than 1 percent of that, according to contribution and expenditure reports filed with the Nevada Secretary of State in January.
Political observers had expected Sandoval would raise more than $1 million but few had predicted he would raise as much as he did.
“I think that probably the real visible evidence of what it would take to beat the governor was when the contribution reports came out,” Vassiliadas said.
Even though Sisolak has money left over from his county commission campaign, he would be at a significant financial disadvantage compared to Sandoval.
“I’d have to spend full time raising money in order to catch up to him,” Sisolak said. “I looked at his campaign donor list and he’s got an awful lot of the same people that I have on my list, so I’d be putting a lot of people in a tough position.”
Candidates file for office between March 3 and March 14, leaving Democrats less than a month to find competitive candidate.
Democrats, however, may chose to back no candidate for governor, a strategy that would put the focus on the lieutenant governor’s race so as to stymie Sandoval’s potential U.S. Senate race in 2016. Having a Democratic lieutenant governor would mean Sandoval would cede the governorship to a Democrat should he win a federal race in 2016.
A spokesman from the Sandoval campaign said Sisolak’s announcement doesn’t change much for governor.
"No matter our opponent, we plan to run a strong, grassroots campaign that engages Nevadans on the important issues facing our state,” said Jeremy Hughes, campaign manager for Sandoval’s reelection bid.
But as a practical matter, Sandoval could have a lot of extra money to throw around this election season if he has no serious opponent.
“I’m sure he’ll be a good party leader when it’s the state senate or any of the other races, but if his election isn’t at stake, it takes a little bit of the drive out,” Vassiliadas said.
The governor could aid Republicans who are seeking to wrest control of the state Senate from Democrats, or he could pour money into contested races for lieutenant governor and other state offices.
Sisolak is in his second term as a Clark County commissioner after being elected in 2008. He was chosen to chair the board in 2013. He previously spent ten years as a Nevada Board of Regents member, overseeing the state's higher education system.
He was considered one of the few credible Democratic candidates who might challenge Sandoval.
Sisolak spent about $74,000 on consultants and polling in July and August of last year as he pondered a run for governor, according to his annual contribution and expense report filed with the Nevada Secretary of State.
But he did not fundraise because “it’d be disingenuous to raise the money and then not run,” he told the Sun in January.
“If somebody else wants to get into the race, let them get in the race,” he said in the same interview. “I’m not encouraging or discouraging anybody.”
Besides Sisolak, no serious challenger has emerged to date.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, previously said he would consider running for governor but has said for about a month that he’s now reluctant to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination.
Democrat Chris Hyepock, a manager at Rampart Casino, and Fred Conquest, a College of Southern Nevada professor, have said they are running for governor, but neither has gained substantial support.
Sandoval appears to have no competitive Republican primary election ahead of him. So far, only Eddie Hamilton, a perennial GOP candidate, has challenged Sandoval.
A spokesman from the Nevada Democratic Party did not return a phone call and email from the Sun Monday evening.