Recently, Fox News held a debate for 2012 GOP presidential contenders and, as America’s most trusted anchorman Jon Stewart couldn’t resist pointing out, more candidates and potential candidates stayed home than showed up. This inevitably led to comments about the current weak state of the Republican field.
What’s true of the presidential race is true of the group running in the Congressional District 2 special election to replace newly minted U.S. Sen. Dean Heller. Not that the announced Republican candidates are Nevada’s version of the hopeless group that appeared on Fox, but they have their problems.
The first Republican to jump in was Sharron Angle. Consider that her party has gone to court to try to limit the field to whoever the party committees choose as their standard-bearers. Why? Not merely because Republican leaders want to make the choice: They know that Angle probably would beat anyone else they have in the field. If they don’t know, they are denying reality.
Why? Angle ran the most inept, ridiculous campaign for statewide office that any supposedly serious candidate has mounted in recent memory. Yes, a lot of people didn’t like her opponent, Sen. Harry Reid. Nearly 45 percent of Nevadans, though — meaning not just the mostly rural and Washoe County electorate that makes up District 2, but a significant number of those in Clark County — were willing to support a Senate candidate who talked about “Second Amendment remedies,” eliminating important government programs, and couldn’t tell a Latino from an Asian. That base of voters who like Angle are the likeliest to turn out for a special election.
If Kirk Lippold had serious money, he’d be a serious challenger, but that seems unlikely. He commanded the USS Cole, the ship attacked by that guy Barack Obama sent the Navy SEALs to take out. While some credit him with saving the ship, others say he should have been better prepared for a terrorist assault. Lippold would be considered far right if Angle weren’t his opponent.
State Sen. Greg Brower has made all of the important far right noises — taxes bad, taxes bad, taxes bad — but he just received the appointment to succeed Bill Raggio in the State Senate. It shouldn’t be hard for Angle to rally her troops by suggesting that since Raggio likes Brower, he must be evil. What’s more, Brower is a Reno guy, and while conservative rural Nevadans generally don’t like Las Vegas, they also aren’t huge fans of the Biggest Little City.
Then there’s Mark Amodei, the former state senator. He made a lot of friends in his years in Carson City. He should have access to money because he was a partner in a major Nevada law firm — the former Kummer Kaempfer, which lobbies the legislature — and the executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. But therein lay his problem. He probably would like to forget that he took the Mining Association job while still in the state senate and said he had no need to resign, meaning that he was with an organization that has a slight interest in legislative policy on things like, oh, taxes and regulations. Never mind that he introduced a tax increase proposal while in the state senate — he will take a licking over the ethical question.
Not that Democrats are immune from problems. Kate Marshall is state treasurer, and while she really has little to do with the budget, it’s easy to fool people into thinking otherwise; some insiders also feel she may not be ready for prime time. Jill Derby could cut into the rural vote if she’s in the race: Derby is from Gardnerville, Marshall from Reno. Nancy Price is another familiar name, and voters have been known just to vote for a name they recognize. Given all that, though, there’s a reason Democrats think they have a legitimate shot at this seat for the first time ever.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.