Commentary

The big question for 2022: Just how badly will Democrats blow it?

September 22, 2021 6:03 am

(Illustration: Getty Images)

Are you eagerly awaiting Joe Lombardo’s plan to mitigate impacts of the climate crisis in the nation’s fastest-warming state?

Or Joey Gilbert’s five-point proposal to improve Nevada’s infamously inadequate mental health services? 

Or how about — that old salt– Dean Heller’s stance on health care reforms?

Sorry.

A Republican primary for Nevada governor in 2022 is no place to look for solutions to actual problems.

But if a relentless chorus of battle cries urging the faithful to rush to the front lines in the culture wars is your thing, you’re in luck.

And to be fair, all the GOP candidates have outlined strong positions on voting: If done in person by white Republicans, especially males, they’re for it; otherwise it must be stopped. So there’s that.

Monday, Lombardo declared it “an honor” to be endorsed by a rural sheriff who sent a letter to his local library saying “Due to your support of Black Lives Matter and the obvious lack of support or trust with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, please do not feel the need to call 911 for help.”

In the campaign video Lombardo released this summer, the sheriff solemnly lifts his badge from a desk. Presumably to toss it in a urinal.

Also Monday, Heller said he wanted Nevada to have an anti-abortion rights law just like the one in Texas (later in the day, Heller demonstrated that he didn’t know what was in the law). 

Heller was pro-choice until he wasn’t when he faced Sharron Angle in a tough GOP primary for a U.S. House seat in 2006. To some people, flip-flopping for political expediency is a character flaw. For Heller, it’s a brand.

Meanwhile, John Lee is still unvaccinated. And all the Republicans who think they’re gubernatorial material, even the obligatory random rich dude self-financing a vanity campaign, have trained themselves to say the words “critical race theory” on cue.

Nevada will be subjected to this carnival of carnival barkers regurgitating whatever buzzwords and topics are trending on talk radio for however long their campaigns last. Nevada can’t even take comfort, as it sometimes likes to do, by quipping “only in Nevada” and chuckling with aw-shucks pride in it’s quaint collection of “quirky characters.” There’s nothing quirky or unique about them. They’re adhering to exactly the same template — and words and phrases — as virtually every Republican politician in the country.

 But wait. It gets worse.

It’s not really about them

Whichever one of these circus bears manages to ride their unicycle to victory in the primary could be Nevada’s next governor.

That’s right. Gilbert. The vanity candidate. Any of them, if they win the primary, could win the general election.

You see, it’s not about them. And as much as they – or he – would like to make it about him, it’s not about incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak either.

An argument can (and now will) be made that the outcome of the race for governor in Nevada in 2022 will be determined not by the quality or lack thereof of candidates in Nevada, but by Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

If the foot-draggers among that crew can be brought along to support the major components of a reconciliation bill, Democrats can run nationally on making permanent a child tax credit that directly provides hundreds of dollars of cash to working parents every month. Democrats would also be able to run on lowering prescription drug costs, because they will have granted Medicare the authority to use its intense economy of scale while negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies. Democrats would also be able to run on finally providing dental and vision coverage under Medicare. All those policies enjoy that most unusual quality in these our polarized times, large and broad bipartisan support.

Democrats would be able to run on a lot of other popular things too, practical, productive reforms, from creating universal preschool and providing child care benefits, to securing higher wages and better conditions for child care and home care workers, both increasingly crucial parts of the U.S. workforce. 

If Democrats in Congress enact concrete programs and benefits that not only would be immediately helpful to voters but (unlike Obamacare when passed in 2010, for example) immediately comprehensible and meaningful to broad cross sections of the populace, Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters will be far more likely to show up and vote for them.

If, on the other hand, Democrats blow it, those voters might do what they’ve often done in midterm elections, and stay home. 

Meanwhile, Republicans and voters who like to call themselves independents but always vote Republican, stirred by the usual enthusiasm enjoyed by the nonpresidential party in midterms and whipped up by whatever culture war outrage is trending at the time, will turn out in waves.

It doesn’t matter if the Nevada GOP candidate for governor is Heller, Gilbert, or a lemon bundt cake. Republicans and GOP-voting independents are going to turn out in waves no matter what, the most fervent driven by the bat guano vibe so hot on the right these days, and others just because they are regular voters who’ve spent most if not of all their adult lives saying “well I can’t vote for the Democrat.”

Democrats, including Sisolak and Sen. Jacky Rosen, won in Nevada in 2018 not because their messages were so strong and appealing (they weren’t), or their campaigns so compelling (as if). They won because Donald Trump was president and their opponents lashed themselves to him. Voters were out to shut down the freakshow.

Now the right thinks Biden’s the freakshow. 

If Democrats in Congress produce a record of solid, practical achievements, there’s a much greater chance their voters show up. If Democrats find themselves yet again shopping a suite of small-ball micro-targeted issues while counting on their voters to show up because the GOP’s agenda is despicable (which it is), Democrats almost assuredly will suffer the fate presidential parties usually suffer in midterms, and lose control of both houses of Congress.

And the defeat will ripple up and down ballots in states all over, including Nevada.

At which point Nevada’s most powerful industries will say “huh, oh well,” and quickly start buying up the highest-priced tables at Gov. Lemon Cake’s inaugural ball.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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