Taxes, presidential politics to dominate state elections | NevadaAppeal.com
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Taxes, presidential politics to dominate state elections

BRENDAN RILEY

Nevada’s 2004 election year is about to open with little buzz over U.S. Senate and House races. It’s a different story in the state Legislature and the state Supreme Court, where extensive debate over higher taxes is expected to spark the campaigns.

Also, Nevada is seen as a battleground state in the presidential election, and that’s prompting new get-out-the-vote efforts. Nevada has but five electoral votes, but the 2000 election proved how critical just a few can be to winning the White House.

Add in a batch of ballot questions on issues ranging from taxes to medical malpractice, and the bottom line is a 2004 election season that should be anything but boring, election officials say.

“Regardless of all the peripheral issues, 2004 is going to be huge anyway because it’s a presidential election year,” Secretary of State Dean Heller said. “I’d anticipate 70 percent voter turnout, if not more should some of these petitions make the ballot.”

Heller said the tax issue, created by the state Legislature’s record $833 million tax increase this summer, “is going to play heavy in all the races, from the top of the ticket all the way to the bottom.”

The main event in the congressional races is a bid for a fourth term by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who already has raised more than $5 million. None of the three Republican state officeholders who are looking at the race has made a decision on whether to run.

State Treasurer Brian Krolicki has formed an exploratory committee, and state Controller Kathy Augustine and Secretary of State Dean Heller also are considering Senate bids.

Reid, the Senate’s minority whip, says he drastically underestimated his Republican challenger in 1998, and isn’t making the same mistake this time. He won by only 428 votes over John Ensign, who two years later won Nevada’s other U.S. Senate seat.

“As bad as my campaign was last time, it’s going to be that good this time,” Reid said. “It doesn’t matter who runs against me. I’m going to be well-prepared.”

Reid’s only confirmed challenger so far is Richard Ziser who headed a conservative group that was able to get voter approval in 2002 of an initiative barring recognition of gay marriages.

In U.S. House races, Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and Jon Porter, R-Nev., all are seeking re-election – and none has an announced challenger.

Rebecca Lambe, the state Democratic Party’s executive director, predicts a strong challenge to Porter, who’s seeking his second term in a district that has a slight registration advantage for Republicans. But she isn’t naming names.

New-voter registration efforts and continuing debate over President Bush’s support for a high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain northwest of Las Vegas promise to figure in the re-election campaign for Bush. Both parties say Nevada is among the key states in the race for the presidency.

A late-October Las Vegas Review-Journal poll indicated most Nevadans were still undecided about whether they’ll vote to re-elect Bush, who endorsed the waste dump after his election in 2000.

Just 23 percent of those surveyed said they’d vote for Bush regardless of his Democratic opponent. Respondents were given a choice to choose the candidate who best represents their views – and 44 percent said they’d continue to evaluate the candidates. The survey didn’t ask respondents whether they’d vote for any of nine Democratic candidates.

The voter registration efforts include the New Democrat Network effort urging Hispanics to vote against Bush; and MoveOn.org, a liberal organization also targeting Bush. Republicans plan their own get-out-the-vote effort, and another registration drive, the New Voters Project will appeal to youthful voters.