Sandoval's robust numbers, weak Democratic bench ended governor's race

As Democrats fret about their lack of a candidate in the state’s most important race, with Steve Sisolak’s inevitable decision not to run for governor, the question is: How did this happen?

Let me rephrase: How did arguably the most formidable party apparatus in the country, the one that saved Harry Reid and propelled Barack Obama to two victories in Nevada, fail, especially since Gov. Brian Sandoval might challenge the majority leader in 2016? (I don’t think he will, but the pressure from the national GOP after he wins this year will be intense, and Team Reid leaves little to chance.)

The answer is simpler than you might think and has two parts: Gov. Brian Sandoval didn’t make a major mistake, and the Democrats have no one viable who is ready or willing to take the chance.

Sorry, Harry. The truth hurts.

Let’s take them in order.

Sandoval is immensely popularespecially in a state with such high unemployment and an economy struggling to recover. For months, the agents of the Party of Reid have tried to create or inflame issues to diminish Sandoval, especially the mental health debacle.

But none of it stuck to the Teflon Gov, whose preternatural affability and ubiquitous presence – has he missed a new business opening? – have given him robust standing among voters. There have been a few gnats on the right who have lambasted Sandoval for not being conservative enough, but they have no credibility with anyone but an amen chorus that would fit in a phone booth (Do phone booths even exist anymore?).

So as the economy slowly stumbles toward recovery, Sandoval has avoided all the banana peels thrown by the Party of Reid, so the anointment is complete after Sisolak’s announcement.

Sorry, Harry. Anointments work -- I read about it.

The Clark County Commission chairman said Monday evening on "Ralston Reports" that he “very seriously” considered running, and I think that’s so. The commissioner wouldn’t have done polling and hired focus groups. And he is ambitious.

Sisolak said he had “done all of his homework” and realized “it would be a scorched earth campaign.”

He also said that his research showed Sandoval has vulnerabilities, including mental health (”a big issue to people, did have some sticking power”) and fair share (“Southern Nevada has gotten the short end of the stick.”)

But Sisolak is a smart guy, and even though he could have made trouble for Sandoval, the odds were long at best. He’s not a clean horse – no one on a local government body can be – and you need one to knock the governor off of his.

Sorry, Harry. Sisolak's deep pockets will not be in your service this season.

Which brings me to the second reason the Democrats and Prince Harry have no one. Because....they have no one.

Sisolak would not have been the Meddler-in-Chief’s first choice. If I know one thing about Harry Reid, it’s that he loves self-funding candidates, which Sisolak may have been (although not necessarily willing).  But long before Sisolak was in the picture, the Democrats had two constitutional officers, maybe three, who potentially would have been more formidable.

Secretary of State Ross Miller has long been thought to long to follow in his father’s footsteps into the governor’s mansion. But Miller is term-limited and not yet 40, so why would he take the chance against a popular governor who would raise much more money and have the power of incumbency? Not worth it.

One down. Sorry, Harry.

Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto may have the best statewide profile to beat Sandoval: A Latina with credibility who can raise money and activate the Hispanic vote. But she is not interested in being governor; she would love to be in the U.S. Senate. (Masto-Dean Heller in ’18? Make it so.)

Two down. Sorry, Harry.

I could make a lesser case for Treasurer Kate Marshall, who also has Hispanic blood and is very smart and aggressive. But she surely gets how difficult it would be to defeat Sandoval, and she once told me she was born to be secretary of state. So….

Sorry, Harry.

So what’s a senator to do to protect his flank, to try to deter a man he once sent to a lifetime federal judicial appointment (2005) to get him out of his hair and now finds out that Sandoval applied for and received early release and now is perfectly situated to do what Reid always feared he might? (It’s one thing to beat Prince Harry's son; Prince Harry forgives that. But run against the man himself? This will not stand.)

For the Democrats, apres those constitutional officers, le deluge.

No one in the Legislature among the Democratic leaders would have a chance. Rep. Dina Titus (been there, done that, have a safe district) and Rep. Steven Horsford (hello, I just got here!) are not possibilities. So that’s why Sisolak, who gets politics and gets attention, landed on the senator’s radar screen. But even Prince Harry knew by the end of last year that Sisolak was not likely to run.

Sorry, Harry.

So now it’s about putting the best face on the vacancy – AP veteran Sandra Chereb tweeted Tuesday afternoon that Reid “says a D candidate will emerge for #NVgov race.” Yes, but not one who has any chance.

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, who is at midterm and used to sacrifice himself for the Democrats as party chairman, would be happy to hop on the spit. He’d enjoy the hurly burly.

But if the majority leader wanted that, Segerblom would be in already. The Party of Reid would rather not have a loose cannon on the decks and long ago decided on a blocking strategy instead – i.e. installing a Democrat as lieutenant governor to deter Sandoval from any thoughts of leaving the state for the Club of 100.

That’s why Assemblywoman Lucy Flores is about to become Harry Reid’s favorite politician of 2014 when she announces her candidacy for lieutenant governor. With Sandoval too strong and the Democratic bench bereft, it’s Prince Harry’s only play.


(Image from