The election year ahead

It’s that time of year when political ambition confronts the reality of the looming Labor Day weekend and the symbolic start of the 2018 campaigns. Conventional wisdom dictates that candidates make their final decisions by the end of the summer season so lobbyists and donors can identify their choices and start writing campaign checks.

Unfortunately, 2018 doesn’t boast a presidential election, even though most of the nation is ready to boot the Donald from the White House, or the “dump,” as he refers to it, but it does offer the nation’s marquee U.S. Senate race in Nevada along with six other statewide contests that will determine the state’s direction over the next four years.

Approval ratings for Nevada’s U.S. Senator Dean Heller hit an all-time low of 22 percent after the health care debacle where his wishy-washy, two-faced opinions satisfied no one. His inexplicable votes earned him a primary opponent, perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, who signaled he’s on the Trump train when he announced his candidacy last week on Fox and Friends, declaring, “We’re never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his America First agenda.”

It’s going to be a particularly nasty primary funded by dark money on both sides, but there’s still the potential for a post-Labor Day bombshell if Heller decides to retire rather than face his furious constituents. But could desperate Republicans implore Gov. Brian Sandoval to rescue the party from implosion and save the seat? Don’t rule it out; he’s done it before.

Sandoval is constrained from running for re-election due to term limits, leaving Nevada’s gubernatorial primary voters with a choice of moving sharply right or decidedly left. Although Republicans have held the governor’s office since 1998 when moderate Republican Kenny Guinn took the reins from Democrat Bob Miller, and managed to hold on through the disastrous administration of Jim Gibbons to eight years of Sandoval, anti-Trump sentiment may tilt the electorate back to the Democrats in 2018.

Presumptive Republican candidate Adam Laxalt has neatly cleared his primary field, pushing aside Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei with barely a whimper even though both had previously expressed interest in being governor. Treasurer Dan Schwartz has said he may run, but is likely to have less appeal and certainly much less money and may opt for re-election instead.

Democrats will likely choose between two Clark County commissioners for their party’s gubernatorial nomination. Steve Sisolak is a former Regent and business-first Democrat who seems to delight in denying he’s a progressive. His leadership role in giving away taxpayer funds to the new Raiders stadium won’t earn him many votes in Washoe County in any event. The other commissioner itching to run is Chris Giunchigliani who served 14 years in the state Assembly before joining the commission and is widely known and appreciated by progressives at both ends of the state. Sisolack will have more campaign cash from his business friends, but Chris G., as she is known, will likely prevail, setting up a progressive versus “Trumpster” contest with Laxalt next November.

The attorney general’s race is rumored to feature an ally of Laxalt’s, Wes Duncan, a one-term former assemblymember, versus Senate Democratic leader Aaron Ford, a moderate Democrat who has served in the state Senate since 2012. Both are respected attorneys with elective experience, but in an anti-Trump year, the edge goes to Ford.

Other constitutional offices will be less competitive thanks to a weak bench on the Democratic side, although there may be some surprise announcements after Labor Day. Progressives are going to have some clear choices in 2018 and an opportunity to increase their power if they actively engage.