What’s up with Ed?

Ed Bernstein says another political campaign may be in his future

Ed Bernstein, shown here in 2000 campaign mode, lost the Senate race to John Ensign by 92,000 votes. Still, he might be the Democrats’ best shot at getting a state office in 2002.

Ed Bernstein, shown here in 2000 campaign mode, lost the Senate race to John Ensign by 92,000 votes. Still, he might be the Democrats’ best shot at getting a state office in 2002.

Photo By David Robert

Publicly, it’s been a quiet year for Ed Bernstein.

Ever since November 2000, when the widely known Las Vegas lawyer lost his U.S. Senate race against John Ensign by more than 15 percentage points, his name hasn’t been in the media much. Yeah, he’s been in a few commercials and on some billboards advertising his law firm, and he was quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last August as saying he was pondering a run for lieutenant governor in 2002.

That’s about it.

“I was away from my business for 18 months, and I had to rebuild my business,” Bernstein explained during a recent interview. “I took time for myself and was spending time with my children. When you go through a campaign, as rewarding as the experience is, when you’re going down Road A, you’re not going down Road B.”

So that explains it. But what is in the future for the Democrat, who before 2000 had never before run for public office? That’s a good question—a question that Bernstein says he doesn’t even know the answer to.

“I hope to be involved in the [political] process, whether it’s political, elected or appointed—at some level,” he said. “I don’t know where yet, but I’m going to remain active.”

Overcoming 2000
Bernstein’s first run for office was not a contest. Ensign got 55 percent of the vote, besting Bernstein’s 39.7 percent by more than 92,000 votes. Not only that, but Ensign raised $4.85 million for the campaign, while Bernstein reported contributions of only $2.48 million—and a good chunk of that came out of his own pocket.

It was a good old-fashioned butt-kicking. So bad, in fact, that many folks believed it would spell the end of Bernstein’s political career. In retrospect, Bernstein says it may have been impossible for him to beat Ensign, who had lost a race two years before to Harry Reid by a mere 428 votes.

“John Ensign had just come out of a race against the second-most-powerful person in the Senate and lost by a handful of votes,” says Bernstein. “He had an organization in place. He had raised millions and millions of dollars to run that race. And then, a couple of months later, he had the opportunity to just go back into the same race, essentially, with everything in place. … There is hardly a more formidable candidate than John.”

But despite the outcome of the race, Bernstein says he wouldn’t have done anything differently. He says he would have highlighted the same issues—including the need for a patients’ bill of rights with HMOs, the high cost of prescription drugs and the need to build a better education system in Nevada—and he would have campaigned just as hard. He also dismisses criticisms that the campaign against Ensign was managed ineffectively (for example, Bernstein did not hit Ensign on the Republican’s extreme opposition to abortion until late in the campaign). Bernstein says he’d do it all over again in a second.

“When I look back at the issues that developed in the race, I developed them,” Bernstein says. “The race essentially became a race on those issues. Those issues never would have developed had I not been in the race. … There was not a voter on Election Day who did not have some awareness of the high cost of prescription drugs.”

Bernstein also says he maintains good relations with the Democratic Party, and that he believes they’d readily support any future candidacy he pursues.

“I made a great number of friends, obviously in the Democratic Party,” he says. “These relationships are important to me and important to them. I have great support in the Democratic Party to run for whatever I want to run for.”

That leads to the question: Is another run for office in Bernstein’s future?

Lt. Gov. Bernstein?
When asked if he’s going to run for anything in 2002, Bernstein says he’s thinking about it.

“I’m looking at where I’d fit in with the things that are important to me, with economic diversity, with education, with medical care,” he says, adding that the issues he’s been trumpeting are more relevant than ever.

Fair enough. But when questioned further, it’s apparent that the office he has his eye on is the lieutenant governor’s seat, currently occupied by Lorraine Hunt, a former Clark County commissioner and a Republican who steamrollered Democrat Rose McKinney-James by more than 10 percentage points in 1998.

He says it’s an office where he could help address the issues important to him. And it’s an office that would be a lot cheaper to run for, too. In 1998, Hunt spent about $400,000. This is a race in which Bernstein’s personal wealth could have more of an impact than in a $5 million Senate race. And he says he’s willing to spend more of his own money.

“If you’re not willing to put your own money into it, you don’t belong in the race,” he says. “If you don’t have enough confidence in yourself to make a sacrifice … you shouldn’t ask other people for money.”

Bernstein says he’s also ready to run again, if he chooses to do so, and that he enjoyed the 2000 race despite its outcome.

“One of the good things that happened, having just ran the kind of race that I ran, is that I am no longer a novice at this,” he says. “I know what it takes to run a race. … I did it the hard way [in 2000].”

The amazing thing is that, if Bernstein indeed decides to run, he could be the Democrats’ best hope at winning a state constitutional office. The Democrats have all but conceded the governor’s race to Kenny Guinn, and Republican Brian Sandoval is the overwhelming favorite to take over as attorney general for the retiring Frankie Sue Del Papa. Secretary of State Dean Heller, Controller Kathy Augustine and Treasurer Brian Krolicki will be highly favored as well to get re-elected—assuming anyone even runs against them.

Bernstein says he’s in no hurry to announce anything, saying he could take up until the filing deadline in the spring to make a decision. And he says his defeat in 2000 will not deter him in any way.

“I did not come out of this election with negative feelings about running for office,” he says. “Quite the contrary. I enjoyed every minute of it. When the election was over, and I lost, I was missing the running more than I felt bad about the loss.”

Former RN&R Editor Jimmy Boegle is a reporter at Las Vegas CityLife, where this story first appeared. Read more Boegle at www.lasvegascitylife.com.