Primary election thins the field

Pulses were racing in the establishment Republican caucus last Tuesday as news of Eric Cantor’s unceremonious dumping lit up Twitter on primary day in Virginia and Nevada. While pundits gleefully dissected the unexpected and unprecedented primary defeat of the majority leader of the House of Representatives, local reporters instantly speculated on whether a similar surprise awaited Nevada in a few hours when our polls closed.


Establishment candidates handily won their races. The power of incumbency carried the day as even “I’d vote for slavery if my constituents wanted me to” Assemblyman Jim Wheeler easily defeated Governor Gibbons’ chief of staff, Robin Reedy, by more than 25 points.

Legislative incumbents all won, perhaps because they took the threat of a primary opponent seriously, spending ridiculous amounts of money to ensure victory. An incumbent official even won the crowded Reno mayor’s race, with Councilmember Hillary Schieve earning 26 percent of the primary vote, followed by the incumbent mayor’s choice, Ray Pezonella, with 18 percent.

The most embarrassing victory was the Democratic choice for governor, none of the above, providing fodder for many a national joke at Nevada’s expense. Thirty percent of Democratic primary voters protested the lack of a viable candidate by choosing the non-candidate option for governor, the fifth time in Nevada’s history that “None” has won.

Despite the embarrassment, it’s understandable why the Democratic party neglected the race.

It’s an old Nevada tale, really. Once the purveyors of significant campaign cash land on a candidate (think casinos, mining conglomerates, big business), there’s not much opportunity for an insurgent to raise enough money to be competitive. (See the book The Anointed One by Jon Ralston to learn more about NV Inc.)

People with enough name recognition, experience, and deep pockets to run a statewide race against a popular governor are few and far between.

This year, no credible candidate wanted to compete, leaving the primary field to eight unknown Democrats with a yen to be governor. But the media ignored them and they lacked resources to get any sort of message out to the voters. “None of the above” seemed like a reasonable choice under those circumstances.

Looking ahead to the next five months of the 2014 campaign we can expect to see a lively contest for lieutenant governor between Lucy Flores and Mark Hutchison. Flores has already demonstrated a knack for energizing voters and appears animated and intelligent in televised interviews. She has a compelling life story and, most importantly, a united base of supporters in the Democratic party.

Hutchison has the governor’s endorsement and the governor’s willingness to fund-raise, since he hardly needs more money for his re-election anointment. But half-term State Senator Hutchison demonstrated a remarkably short fuse during primary season, appearing arrogant, angry and frustrated when needled by his opponent. He’ll need to quickly grow a thicker skin and accept that in the real world, i.e. where the sycophant lobbyists aren’t in charge, his wonderfulness may not be fully appreciated.

Reno voters are relieved to be able to focus on just two candidates for mayor after the overwhelming 18 choices during primary season. While some see the race as an ongoing proxy war between Mayor Cashell and former councilmember Jessica Sferrazza, the two candidates must stand on their own ideas now.

Reno will have two competitive City Council races with strong candidates. Unfortunately, the winners will be chosen by the entire city, meaning high-turnout and wealthier areas like Ward 1 will likely decide who the Ward 2 and 4 representatives will be.

It seems like a long time until November, but the candidates will be busy. And when you’re tempted to complain about them knocking on your door, remember, that knock is the sound of grassroots democracy. Open the door and engage.