Nevada Election Year A Marathon

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Nevada's 2006 election year already is shaping up as a marathon, with more open statewide races than usual, lots of ballot questions on topics ranging from taxes to marijuana use, and an early, noisy start to candidates' rhetoric.
Voters will narrow the candidate field in the state's Aug. 15
primary, moved up from its traditional September date after Labor
Day weekend, before deciding on a new governor, lieutenant
governor, attorney general, controller, treasurer and secretary of
state in the Nov. 7 general election.
Also to be decided in Nevada are one U.S. Senate and three U.S.
House contests, three state Supreme Court races, 42 state Assembly
battles and 11 state Senate races.
There will be at least nine ballot questions - and possibly
several more. Among the proposals are a California Proposition
13-style tax rollback, a tax-and-spending control plan, a question
dealing with public education funding, and others limiting tobacco
smoking in public places, easing marijuana laws and boosting state
lawmakers' pay.
"This is the first time in two decades that Nevada is going to
see so many competitive statewide races, really from the governor's
office on down," said University of Nevada, Reno political science
professor Eric Herzik.
In the governor's race, Herzik pegs Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., as
the favorite among Republican candidates. He faces state Sen. Bob
Beers, R-Las Vegas, and Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt in the GOP primary.
If state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, emerges
as the Democratic nominee for governor, Herzik predicted Gibbons
would likely win in the general election since voters would favor
his conservatism over "a classic liberal."
But if Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson wins the Democratic primary in
August, Herzik said he thinks the general election results in
November "could be really close."
"In many ways, Jim Gibbons is more liberal than Jim Gibson,
particularly on social issues," Herzik said.
Gibson isn't a sure bet in the Democratic primary. Titus
recently challenged his Democratic credentials when the mayor
suggested he'd support legislation outlawing abortion if Roe v.
Wade were overturned. Gibson later said he wouldn't seek such a
bill and his opposition to abortion was a personal belief, but
Herzik said the initial comments "put him on the wrong side in a
closed primary."
The governor's race is open because Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn
has hit his two-term limit. The same holds true for the Republican
incumbents in all other statewide constitutional offices except
attorney general.
GOP Attorney General George Chanos doesn't get much of an edge
as an incumbent because he was only recently appointed after his
predecessor, Brian Sandoval, was named a federal judge.
With all the open seats, Herzik said Democrats have a better
chance of avoiding another Republican sweep like the one in 2002
when GOP candidates won every statewide race. He said the party has
"some solid contenders" - among them Catherine Cortez-Masto,
who's challenging Chanos.
Others include Ross Miller, son of former Gov. Bob Miller, who's
expected to run for secretary of state. He'd face Republican Danny
Tarkanian, son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.
In the race for lieutenant governor, outgoing Treasurer Brian
Krolicki could face outgoing Controller Kathy Augustine, who was
impeached and censured but not removed from office. If she runs for
treasurer instead, Augustine would face Mark DeStefano in the
Democrats in the treasurer's race include Kate Marshall, a
former senior deputy attorney general; and possibly Assembly Ways
and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas.
The prospect of a bloody Republican primary has developed in the
race for the U.S. House seat that Gibbons is giving up to run for
governor. His wife, former Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, is running
for the congressional seat against outgoing Secretary of State Dean
Heller and conservative, anti-tax Assemblywoman Sharron Angle,
Herzik said Democrats have a viable candidate in veteran
university system regent Jill Talbot Derby, but he sees "a real
uphill climb" for Derby given the strong GOP voter registration in
the House district that includes most of northern and rural Nevada.
Nevada's U.S. Senate race might well draw national interest
because Republican incumbent John Ensign could face a challenge
from Jack Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's son, or Las Vegas
Mayor Oscar Goodman.
Goodman has discussed the possibility of running against Ensign
with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who said the Democratic
mayor is "a real vote-getter" and would be "a very, very strong
candidate" if he entered the race. He noted Goodman got 86 percent
of the vote in his last race.
But Herzik said Carter's chances are "slim and none" because
he's a relative newcomer to the state.
In the legislative races, Herzik said Democrats who control the
Assembly could pick up more seats, "making it more partisan and
liberal." He predicted Republicans will remain in control of the
state Senate.
Democrats now hold a 26-16 advantage in the Assembly, while
Republicans have a 12-9 edge in the Senate.