A small percentage of Nevadans will soon vote in primary elections that will have a big impact on our lives. Election Day is June 10, and early voting has already begun; if past participation predicts future results, you’re unlikely to encounter long lines at the polls. But here are six reasons you should do your civic duty—or at least pay attention:
• As the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill loved to say, “all politics is local.” So while the only big-ticket primaries this season are the race for the Republican lieutenant governor’s bid and the Republican race in the 4th congressional district, plenty of important posts are at stake. After all, legislators and county commissioners vote on issues close to home, from parks to potholes. The primaries also matter in ways you may not have thought of: A closer-than-expected primary for a presumptive winner affects the rest of the campaign. It can shape the way candidates raise money and entice volunteers, creating a ripple effect into the general election that may not seem clear at the time.
• Primaries give us a chance to reflect on the silly expenditure of campaign money. Governor Brian Sandoval made news for sending out a mailer that referred to the state as “Neveda.” Granted, this doesn’t speak well for his ability to select campaign staff. But why is his campaign doing anything now? Quick: Name the four Republicans challenging Sandoval in the primary. If you can, get a life. Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Joe Heck has an ad paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claiming he has been trying to “fix” Obamacare. Set aside the dubious veracity of the claim: Heck doesn’t even have a primary—and he’s on television already?
• Many see the lieutenant governor’s race as a proxy battle between Sandoval and Senator Harry Reid. A victory for Democrat Lucy Flores in November, the thinking goes, might protect Reid from a Sandoval challenge in 2016. The assumption is that Sandoval wouldn’t want to leave the governor’s mansion to a Democrat. But Sandoval probably won’t run against Reid anyway, and what’s most interesting about the lieutenant governor’s race is the Republican primary, which could be classified, somewhat dramatically, as a battle for the party’s soul. Nationally, the GOP is trying to deny that the Tea Party has overtaken its establishment. But in reality, Tea Party positions now drive the whole operation. In this race, Sue Lowden has attacked Mark Hutchison, Sandoval’s “establishment” choice, for voting to implement Obamacare in Nevada when Sandoval realized that it was coming whether he liked it or not. Never mind that Hutchison had previously demonstrated the requisite anti-Obamacare credentials by representing the state in its effort to get Obamacare declared unconstitutional.
• Of course, the GOP’s internal skirmishes in Nevada predate the Tea Party’s national ascent, and many on the Republican right here are far closer to libertarian than their national counterparts. But Hutchison vs. Lowden and legislative primaries involving party leaders such as state Sen. Michael Roberson and Assemblyman Lynn Stewart—who have been attacked for occasionally taking a position that could be characterized as conservative instead of right-wing—make this year’s primaries a contest for control of the state party’s future.
• We’ve entered a topsy-turvy world where Democrats are apparently more united than Republicans. So the Democrats’ internal dynamics matter less than policy and regional questions. Will the Clark County legislative caucus grow and more stubbornly stick together? Will the party succeed in bringing more money south? What will be the effect of the party’s failure to support the Education Initiative? Democrats can’t win the two-thirds of the Legislature needed to raise taxes, but Clark County, which is mostly Democratic, has the two-thirds it needs to control the Legislature.
• Lastly, an energetic primary may mean more engagement in the general election, driving people to the polls despite the lack of a true battle for the governorship. In other words, Tip would be proud:
All politics still is local.
Michael Green is a professor of history at the College of Southern Nevada.