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Strange Bedfellows In The Race For Governor

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In just over two months, people head to the polls to decide who will sit in the governor’s mansion, Republican Adam Laxalt or Democrat Steve Sisolak.

And around this time of year, candidates boast of their endorsements by one group or the other as they seek election. Whether those endorsements matter is a big question. 

But some endorsements this year are notable for, well, not existing.

Steve Sisolak’s opponent in the primary election and fellow Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani has not endorsed him for governor.

Jon Ralston, publisher of the Nevada Independent and longtime political reporter, told KNPR’s State of Nevada that there was a lot of bad blood in that primary race.

He noted that Chris Giunchigliani lost by a large margin and she was not happy with some of the tactics Sisolak used, particularly when it came to allegations connected to Giunchigliani’s late husband Gary Gray.

While Chris G, as she is often called, didn’t endorse Sisolak she has vowed to campaign against his opponent Adam Laxalt.

“Her argument that she’s not going to endorse Sisolak, but is going to go after Laxalt maybe a distinction without a difference,” Ralston said, “How much that really matters remains to be seen.”

Another important politician that has stayed away from endorsing anyone in the governor’s race is current Governor Brian Sandoval. Sandoval and Laxalt are both Republicans and worked together as governor and attorney general.

“I don’t believe that Brian Sandoval either likes or respects Adam Laxalt,” Ralston said, “I believe that he doesn’t think that Laxalt will carry on his legacy. He is very upset with Laxalt saying he is going to repeal the commerce tax.”

The commerce tax is the centerpiece of Sandoval’s effort to increase spending for Nevada schools. It taxes businesses making more than $4 million a year to fund education.

While Sandoval is not putting his name behind Laxalt, he also can’t endorse Steve Sisolak, the Democrat in the race.

“He is sending a message by not endorsing Laxalt that will have an impact,” Ralston said, “How much of an impact? I don’t know if it’s going to be that great but it certainly is a pretty strong message from a very popular governor.”

Another interesting turn in endorsements is Laborers’ union head Tommy White. White has endorsed several Republicans over Democrats in a number of races.

It is an unusual move for a union to endorse GOP candidates over Democrats, but Ralston says White doesn’t really care what people think he is concerned about his union members.

“Tommy White has a very narrow constituency,” Ralston said, “He’s got – I think the number is somewhere around 2,500 members – and he wants to support people and issues that he says are going to help his folks, who went through a devastating time during the recession, get jobs, keep jobs.”

Ralston said having a union endorsement could help those GOP candidates because they can point to it as a way that they reached across the aisle.

In a race down the ticket, outgoing Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager, who is a Democrat, has endorsed Republican Tisha Black over fellow Democrat Justin Jones.

Ralston pointed out that party affiliation does not matter as much on the county commission as it does in the House or Senate.

In addition, he said that Brager is not “beloved” by the Democrat base.

“It is embarrassing for Justin Jones at some level but it’s not like Susan Brager has this huge base in that district that’s going to come out and vote against Justin Jones but it’s a good thing for Tisha Black to use,” he said.

And overall, Ralston doesn’t believe endorsements really matter much. He said if the candidate isn’t well known an endorsement from a well-known politician can help but when a candidate is well known he believes is has “neglectable impact.”

Jon Ralston, publisher, Nevada Independent

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.