As a candidate for governor, it’s hard to imagine how Democrat Steve Sisolak could lose.
He and his opponent, Republican Adam Laxalt, are pretty much tied in a recent opinion survey, which redounds to Sisolak’s benefit because polls also show Republicans less likely to turn out to vote.
Sisolak has the traditional union support Democrats get, including some unions that the public particularly sympathizes with, such as police officers.
Sisolak’s opponent is weak, not well attuned to Nevada sensibilities (he spent the first 80 percent of his life in the East), has frequently bungled his duties in the only public office he ever held, and got his notion of Nevada politics from his grandfather, who left Nevada and never returned to live before things like environmentalism and a large Latino population became factors.
Sisolak is on the right side of most issues with Nevadans, so much so that his opponent has invented an issue – creeping Californiaism – to keep from having to talk about actual Nevada issues.
Sisolak is getting all the right endorsements and avoiding the right ones, such as former Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, whose devotion to issues is so strong that he opposes Sisolak because of ordinary political disputes with Goodman’s wife.
And while Sisolak spent a bundle in the primary, much of it unnecessarily, he has the personal wealth to match Laxalt financially.
So how could Sisolak lose? I can think of only one way – poor judgment and a lack of restraint, which he has shown before.
For instance, he attacked admirable crisis pregnancy centers that try to reduce abortions by advising pregnant women on other options, describing Clark County’s First Choice Pregnancy Services as a “shameful group.” There are ways to criticize Laxalt’s wish to put government in charge of women’s health decisions without attacking good people who are bystanders, but being new to supporting abortion himself, Sisolak stumbled over the nuances. He deserved the round of nasty headlines that came his way on Catholic websites.
Or there were his attacks on his primary opponent Chris Giunchigliani. She is a devoted teacher, and Sisolak attacked her as cozy with child sexual predators, a wholly unnecessary step because between his money and his endorsements, Sisolak already had the primary won when he wielded that mud ball. I know Giunchigliani supporters who are going to the polls specifically to not vote for Sisolak. “I never saw the point of ‘None of these candidates’,” one of them said. “But I’m going to use it this time.” She was referring to Nevada’s ballot option allowing voters to skip all candidates in a statewide race.
So on all the normal strategic yardsticks, Sisolak is a sure winner. The only thing that could trip him up is his character.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.