Nevada Democrats keep hope alive for future
November 15, 2006
While Nevada was one of the bastions of Republicanism against a national tide of Democratic victories in the midterm elections, a slate of rising Democratic stars won key statewide races that could keep the party with a stable full of viable candidates for future gubernatorial and congressional contests.
Four years ago, six statewide constitutional offices were swept by Republicans – including Dean Heller, who just won a congressional seat; Brian Sandoval, now a federal judge; and Brian Krolicki, who took another step toward the Governor’s Mansion by winning his campaign for lieutenant governor.
Now it’s the Democrats’ turn.
Led by Attorney General-elect Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State-elect Ross Miller, Democrats on Nov. 7 broke the GOP’s grip and captured four of the six statewide posts.
Nevada Republicans held onto two of the state’s three House seats and one of its two Senate seats as well as the governor’s office. But the outcome for constitutional offices was a near reversal of 2002, when Nevada Republicans for the first time in 112 years swept all six of them.
Until the votes were counted Election Day, a Democrat hadn’t held title to a state constitutional post since Frankie Sue Del Papa left office in January 2003 after serving three terms as attorney general.
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“These candidates represent the future of our state,” said Sen. Harry Reid, who was elected by his Democratic colleagues in Washington to be the Senate majority leader when the new Congress convenes in January.
Democratic officeholders’ victories come at an opportune time. The national Democratic Party designated the state to hold an early presidential caucus in 2008, meaning plenty of attention and important roles for the state’s Democrats.
President Bush narrowly captured Nevada in 2004 and 2000, but registration remains evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, and strategists think the state is in play.
Republican campaign consultant Jim Denton of Henderson said along with Krolicki, he thinks Cortez Masto and Miller have a bright future in the nation’s fastest-growing state.
“Absolutely, they’re the rising stars of their parties,” Denton said. “They will bring new blood to the helm of the state, and I think that’s a good thing.”
State Archivist Guy Rocha said the lieutenant governor, attorney general and secretary of state positions have traditionally been springboards.
“Those posts are major stepping stones to the highest offices in Nevada,” Rocha said. “History shows that if you’re going anywhere in Nevada politics, it helps to be attorney general, secretary of state or lieutenant governor.”
Among past lieutenant governors are Reid, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, and former Gov. Bob Miller, who is Ross Miller’s father.
Past attorneys general include former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Dick Bryan, former Gov. Bob List and U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval. Current Secretary of State Heller just won a first term to the U.S. House from the 2nd Congressional District.
Ross Miller, a Clark County deputy district attorney, hasn’t ruled out a run for governor.
Miller, 30, the nation’s youngest secretary of state, comfortably defeated Republican Danny Tarkanian, son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
“I’m awfully proud of what my father was able to do in office and obviously it (the governor’s office) has appeal for public policy,” Miller said. “But I’m not there yet. I look forward to running the Secretary of State’s Office, which has tremendous potential.”
Cortez Masto, 42, a former assistant U.S. attorney who once was chief of staff to former Gov. Miller, also comes from a prominent family.
She’s the daughter of the late Manny Cortez, a former chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and a former Clark County commissioner.
“Right now, I’m concentrating on the attorney general’s office and serving the people of the state in there,” Cortez Masto said. “That’s going to take all my time and energy. After serving the people as attorney general, we’ll see what happens.”
Other Democratic winners were Treasurer-elect Kate Marshall and Controller-elect Kim Wallin. But those positions haven’t historically served as stepping stones, Rocha said.
Krolicki, a two-term state treasurer, received a strong endorsement during his campaign from popular outgoing Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn.
Krolicki, 45, who like Ross Miller is a Stanford University graduate, insisted his only political plans now are “to be the best lieutenant governor the state has seen in a long time.
“There have been many great public servants coming out of the lieutenant governor’s office and it’s a privilege to follow in their footsteps,” he said. “Future plans are earned, and I need to earn those opportunities, and I hope to be a great lieutenant governor.”
Reid, who is upbeat about his party’s future chances, said the victorious Democrats have bright futures and they understand the state needs elected leaders who can work on a bipartisan level to get things done.
“As that understanding deepens during their terms in office, they will not only strengthen as leaders, they will become even more competitive should they decide to run for higher office down the road,” Reid said.