Nevada Legislature: Cash rules the day in elections
November 13, 2012
Nevada’s legislative races highlighted a tried and true rule of politics – money matters.
Candidates with the most money won 82 percent of contested Nevada Legislature races, including nine out of 12 contested Senate races and 28 out of 33 Assembly races, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“It doesn’t guarantee you victory, but it puts you in a good spot,” said Fred Lokken, political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College. “You want someone to run with savvy and experience. You need money for yard signs, money for mailers. The voters have to see the signs at least seven times, and you need to send out at least seven mailers for your name to register with a voter. Then in big races you need billboards, radio and TV. The costs are astronomical.”
The National Institute on Money in Politics, based in Helena, Mont., analyzed campaign contribution statements from Nevada in 2010. Analysts found winning Assembly candidates had raised an average of $146,005, while losing candidates raised $23,827. Winning state Senate candidates raised an average of $213,183, while losing candidates raised $102,908.
Donors are far more likely to give to incumbents than challengers, which explains another pattern seen last Tuesday: Incumbents ruled the day.
The only incumbent to lose the general election was Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Marcus Conklin. Two others lost primary races, which means legislative incumbents had a 94 percent winning rate in 2012 elections.
In one example of both trends, incumbent Reno Republican state Sen. Greg Brower eked out a 266-vote victory over former Democratic state Sen. Sheila Leslie in Washoe County’s Senate District 15.
Brower raised $703,619, roughly as much as what Nevada Supreme Court candidates spend in contested statewide races.
Leslie had raised $482,962. Lokken speculated she could have edged past Brower if she had raised as much money as he did.
The election was considerably easier – and cheaper – for nine Assembly candidates who ran unopposed.
Most came from districts where their party has at least a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage, in which the opposing party didn’t bother running out a candidate with so little chance of winning.