Politics is All About the Numbers …And the Personalities

Can the Democrats win a statewide election in Nevada? The simple answer is – yes, of course. Anyone can win any election, given the right circumstances. But recent developments have made it much more difficult, at least conceptually, for Democrats to ensure a successful statewide campaign.

That was never more apparent than the statewide election in 2002. Although there was no way a Democrat was going to beat incumbent Governor Kenny Guinn, other statewide seats certainly could have been competitive. But in the end, the Dems were swept by the GOP in every constitutional office.

Why? A myriad of factors were involved, including candidate personalities and the state’s ever-present anointment system. However, it is getting much more difficult for good Democratic candidates to win unless they are able to count on a huge portion of Clark County voters to support them.

Here is the thought process: No matter what the registration numbers, most of the northern and rural parts of the state tend to vote Republican or, at the least, conservative. A statewide Republican candidate can count on a pretty decent percentage of votes, perhaps 20,000 or more, before even entering Clark County, where more than 60 percent of the voters reside.

That candidate then only has to break even or lose slightly in order to be successful. When Clark County used to be heavily Democratic, that was a tall order. Now that registration numbers have become more balanced, all GOP contenders have to do is keep their party on board to have a chance to be quite successful. This is exactly the scenario that President George Bush used here in 2004 and that governor hopeful Jim Gibbons is counting on in 2006.

So, should the Democrats fold up their tents and go home, given these seemingly insurmountable odds? Of course not, and you can count on them to be as aggressive as always. The one factor this mathematical equation does not take into account is the unique personality of the Nevada voter.

This state has never really voted along party lines. Personalities play a huge role, especially in rural Nevada. While Silver State voters want someone who tends to side with their political ideology, they are also willing to support a candidate they feel can get the job done, regardless of party affiliation.

The success of Senator Harry Reid proves this point. Although he faced a very close election in 1998, he was re-elected and then faced no real opposition in 2004. Former Democratic office holders Senator Richard Bryan and Governor Bob Miller were also extremely successful.

So what will it take in 2006 for the Democrats to obtain more state offices? Smart strategies, good messaging, and a bit of luck. President Bush’s low approval ratings from his handling of the Iraq war and the Hurricane Katrina disaster will certainly help. Economic factors such as high gas prices and interest rates will also contribute.

As always, the state’s anointment machine will also play a key role. Although it appears to be absent from the governor’s race, other statewide offices such as secretary of state and attorney general appear to have some stellar front-runners.

Catherine Cortez-Masto is the clear choice among the state’s political anointers for attorney general (if incumbent Brian Sandoval finally gets his expected appointment to a federal judgeship). Governor Miller’s son, Ross, is also expected to run for secretary of state and will get wide support (which equals a healthy war chest).

The rest of those running for statewide office will undoubtedly have to factor in some of the mathematical realities of Nevada’s current electorate when planning their strategies for success.