In sports, a team is really only as good as it’s bench – the players who don’t start, but come in to fill key roles at crunch time, or who eventually become starters when veteran players retire or move on.
The same is true in politics. A political party, in any state, is only as strong as the quality of the members it has in down-ballot positions – offices that aren’t the most important, but give a young or inexperienced politician time to learn the ropes and get prepared for higher, more prestigious offices.
The Democrats in Nevada took a huge step towards developing an effective farm team this past election year, when they nabbed the attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and controller’s offices. Any one of these offices could be an effective stepping stone in the future for any office, from governor to U.S. Congress to U.S. Senate.
In addition, the Nevada assembly speaker and majority leader positions are held by younger Democrats who could easily vie for statewide offices in the future. In local government, the head of the powerful Clark County Commission is also a Democrat and has a very influential father, who happens to be one of the most powerful men in the entire country.
Does this mean the Republican Party in Nevada should close shop and concede the future to the more powerful Democratic leaders? Of course not. The GOP has many bright young stars who could fill important political positions, including the seat a heartbeat away from the governor’s office – the lieutenant governor. However, Republicans might have to move up another step to be as well-positioned as their Democratic counterparts.
Winning a statewide race and having your name in front of the entire voting population in Nevada creates an important advantage. Descent name identification means that candidates don’t have to spend as much of their political war chest to gain recognition. They can concentrate on the message – the reason voters should choose them over their competition.
For example, a state senator who typically represents a district of perhaps 50,000 voters, might have a harder time challenging an attorney general, whose name is already familiar to Nevada voters. A significant amount of the senator’s early campaign funds will have to be spent educating voters and letting them know the senator’s name and record. The attorney general will not have to waste that initial money, and can go right to the issues.
Obviously other factors can change that dynamic, including scandals, ethical transgressions or any negative factors that can give the candidate with less name identification a fighting chance. And that chance might be further improved if the opponent receives negative press from the free media (television, newspapers and radio). The saying, “any PR is good PR,” is not always true in politics. If candidate’s name is in the paper daily because he or she broke ethics laws, that kind of negative name identity will not be helpful in a political campaign.
So while Democrats appear to have a distinct advantage as we look to future statewide races, the Republicans will have to be smarter and more aggressive in order to win back seats or make a significant political statement in Nevada politics.