Brian Sandoval is considered such a shoo-in to win his party’s nomination for governor that he is sharing his campaign staff with others. Yet the June 10 primary could prove pivotal to the political future of the incumbent Republican.
Flush with cash and untouched by scandal, Sandoval is expected to easily fend off four GOP challengers and then cruise to re-election in November over whichever little-known Democrat emerges from the field of eight in the race.
With Sandoval’s victory all but a certainty, attention has turned to a race that usually draws none.
Lieutenant governor is a part-time job promoting tourism and serving on an economic development board. The governor’s lieutenant presides over the state Senate during legislative sessions in odd-numbered years. It pays $64,000 a year.
But it’s the what-if scenarios that bring political intrigue to the race for the low-profile job sought by state Sen. Mark Hutchison and former state Sen. Sue Lowden. That’s because the lieutenant governor would move into the governor’s mansion should the office become vacant in the middle of a term.
Sandoval is considered a possible 2016 challenger to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, though he has repeatedly denied interest in taking on the man who once nominated him for a federal judgeship. Sandoval said he loves his job and looks forward to four more years as Nevada’s chief executive.
But having a trusted lieutenant in the wings would give the rising star within the GOP options should the Republican National Committee try to convince him of the benefits of Beltway life. He has been mentioned as a longshot vice presidential candidate and a possible Cabinet appointee should Republicans retake the White House.
Sandoval quickly endorsed Hutchison, appeared with him in an early television ad and is sharing campaign staff and facilities.
Yet Sandoval’s own lack of a challenge could make it more difficult for his hand-picked successor.
With early voting for Nevada’s primary election beginning Saturday, and no competitive top-of-the-ticket contests to peak voters’ interest, Secretary of State Ross Miller is predicting statewide turnout at 15 percent to 20 percent. It could be the lowest since 2008, when turnout was just shy of 18 percent.
“If everybody knows Sandoval’s going to win, and you get a turnout of angry conservatives in the rural counties ... that would help Sue Lowden,” said Eric Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Hutchison, 51, is a Las Vegas lawyer who volunteered to represent Nevada in an unsuccessful multistate lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s federal health care law. He also represented the Republican Party when the redrawing of Nevada’s voting districts went to court in 2011.
Lowden, 62, a former television anchor, is a casino owner who ran in a crowded 2010 GOP U.S. Senate primary and lost to tea party-backed Sharron Angle, who was easily defeated by Reid.
Lowden, who as executive director of the state GOP earned the ire of the tea party by shutting down the 2008 state convention when supporters of then Texas Rep. Ron Paul were poised to win delegates to the national convention, has tried to paint herself as the true conservative. Those once angry conservatives are backing her.
Hutchison and Sandoval have drawn the wrath of the party’s far right for extending $620 million in taxes that would have expired.
The winner in the Hutchison-Lowden race will likely face Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, D-Las Vegas, who is running for lieutenant governor with the full backing of Reid.
Only one other constitutional office has a primary. Three Republicans — Cort Arlint, Barry Herr and Ron Knecht — are seeking the nomination for state controller. The winner faces Democratic Assemblyman Andrew Martin.