Wednesday, June 11, 2014 | 2:57 p.m.
It’s not often a lieutenant governor’s race sparks national buzz, ushers in a wave of political contributions and sparks a battle between the state’s Republican and Democrat political machines.
That’s because this race is less about a low-paying position with few duties. It’s more about who will control Nevada politics for the second half of the decade.
Republican Mark Hutchison beat his far-right Republican opponent, Sue Lowden, in Tuesday’s primary.
That sets up a battle in November’s general election: Hutchison, Gov. Brian Sandoval’s candidate, will face Democrat Lucy Flores, Sen. Harry Reid’s candidate. The statewide race could serve as a proxy battle to show which party can power its candidate to victory.
So, before the campaign ads and debates flood the airwaves this summer, here’s what you need to know about the race.
Reid v. Sandoval
The Flores and Hutchison campaigns say the narrative is overplayed. But if Hutchison wins, it would technically open the door for Sandoval to pass him the governor’s chair and run against Reid in 2016. If Flores wins, Sandoval may not want to leave the state in the hands of a Democratic governor, protecting Reid from what would be a formidable opponent in Sandoval.
Hutchison, just minutes after making his victory speech Tuesday, didn’t give any hints about 2016. “Every discussion I’ve had with Brian Sandoval is about 2014,” he said.
One unknown in the Reid-Sandoval battle is how much political force Reid will put behind Flores. Will he — or his campaign team — have enough time to support Flores while also fighting to hold onto the Democrats’ slim majority in the U.S. Senate this fall?
Let the spending spree continue
Hutchison spent more $1 million just to make it out of the primary in a down-ballot race. Flores, who didn’t even have a primary challenger, raised $350,000. Nevada has never seen those types of fundraising totals for a lieutenant governor’s primary.
Flores and Hutchison will tap donor networks built by Reid and Sandoval, and they’re likely to see outside and out-of-state groups pump in cash, too. National groups have shown growing interest in funding down-ballot statewide races and particularly in Nevada, including the attorney general’s race.
For the general election, each candidate is likely to raise close to or more than $1 million.
The helping hands
The race will highlight the symbiotic relationship between the candidates and their parties.
Hutchison will stand hand-in-hand with Sandoval as often as possible. And that’s by design. Hutchison’s campaign and Sandoval’s campaigns share staff and donor lists. At Hutchison’s primary-night party, the restaurant was decorated with Sandoval and Hutchison banners.
Flores and the Democrats will need a strong get-out-the-vote campaign. Democrats aren’t worrying about the anemic primary turnout of 19 percent. They didn’t sponsor a paid grassroots campaign and are likely to mobilize one in the run-up to November.
Expect to see the candidates spending a lot of time up north. As the adage goes, whoever wins Washoe (or loses by less than 2 percent), wins the election.
The narratives you’ll hear
Flores is a former gang member turned two-term assemblywoman in District 28. She earned a law degree. She stumped for President Barack Obama on his 2012 campaign. Her story is compelling, and she doesn’t shy from it. She recently unveiled an ad campaign to tell her life story. Her campaign hopes to humanize Flores so that she can connect with groups, primarily minorities and low-income voters, that don’t normally turn out in midterm elections.
Hutchison is an attorney who has served one term in the state Senate’s District 6. Many voters first saw him on TV debates with Lowden. He showed an irascible side, quickly becoming red-faced at attacks from his opponent. But after his primary win, he’s showing voters a different side. During his victory speech, he smiled often and told jokes about his time on the campaign trail. “There were times when I would come home and my family would call me Uncle Mark because it had been so long since I’ve seen them,” he said.