Academics: Nevada GOP candidates not hurt by Yucca decision

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CARSON CITY, Nev.-- Democrats won't benefit much this election year from Nevadans' anger over the GOP president's decision to send nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, political scientists say.

Ted Jelen, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Friday that President Bush's decision a week ago might be a factor in the 2004 elections -- but not now.

University of Nevada, Reno political scientist Erik Herzik agrees, saying the only possible impact this year would be on two U.S. House races in southern Nevada.

"I don't see it having much of an effect this year because all the candidates are on the same side of the issue," said Jelen.

There could be a bigger impact if activists got an anti-dump ballot question on the November ballot and attracted more voters to the polls, said Jelen. Without that, he added, "This is adding up to be a really boring election."

A boring election means low voter turnout, and that in turn usually helps Republicans, Jelen said.

Herzik sees some "marginal" benefit from Bush's decision for Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., in her House race, and possible help for Democrat Dario Herrera in his race for the state's new, southern Nevada-based House seat.

Republicans in those races include Jon Porter against Herrera and Lynette Boggs McDonald against Berkley.

But Herzik is skeptical, saying, "If Nevadans really care that much (about Yucca Mountain), it might sway voters. But I'm not convinced it will."

"There are many more issues that are important to undecided voters," Herzik said, mentioning the economy, national security, gambling and other issues linked to economic development.

There's a third House race, but Herzik said incumbent Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., has long been opposed to the dump and has an "incredibly safe" GOP district.

The Yucca Mountain dump could be a factor in the race for governor, but both Herzik and Jelen note that there's no major Democrat in the running against GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn -- and Guinn is a leader in the anti-dump effort.

There are several other statewide elective races plus scores of legislative contests, "but the only one that would have any type of remote linkage (to the dump) would be the attorney general's race," said Herzik.

Jelen also said the nuclear dump will affect some candidates' funding. "They'll be more circumspect about who they take money from," he said, adding that it'll be politically hazardous to accept donations from pro-Yucca Mountain groups.

Terry Care, the Nevada Democrats' state party chairman, has said Bush's decision will be fair game as a campaign issue this year. He also thinks Bush has written off Nevada for 2004, and questions whether any Nevada Republicans would want Bush to visit on their behalf.

But Guinn says those who try to make Bush's decision an election-year issue are "small thinkers." And GOP consultant Pete Ernaut says the negative political fallout for Republicans will be short-term and "very minimal."


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