Why Nevada’s upcoming special election is worth watching

Last Saturday, the Nevada Democratic Party’s Central Committee selected State Treasurer Kate Marshall to be the Democratic candidate in the upcoming special election to replace now-Sen. Dean Heller in the House of Representatives.

Marshall won the near-universal support of those voting, a testament to the strong backing from influential party members with which she enters the race. However, the most powerful individual behind Marshall in her fight to take Nevada’s Second District appears to be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

As of Saturday, Reid — whose 2010 campaign earned high praise for smart and early organizing that guaranteed former opponent Sharron Angle a much tougher fight than many expected or even observed during the campaign itself — had reportedly already helped Marshall raise close to $100,000.

More money will likely follow. Per Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College quoted by the Reno Gazette-Journal, “What Harry Reid has repeatedly demonstrated is that he has juice. Not only can he raise a phenomenal amount of money for his own campaign, his star power also brings those types of contributions to the people he endorses.”

But the Reid factor is just one of two reasons that the special election, which is slated for September 13, is worth watching.

The second is the lack of clarity surrounding who the contenders in the race will be.

A week before Democrats nominated Marshall, Republicans nominated former state senator and state party chairman Mark Amodei. Provided that Nevada’s Supreme Court signs off on the method of selection used in both cases, the race is set. If, however, the Court allows other candidates to be included on the ballot, the race could be somewhat messy. Former USS Cole Commander Kirk Lippold wants to run and has some prominent supporters, including former Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich, who represented the district from 1983 to 1997. However, according to some involved with the race, Republicans’ desire to beat Reid by proxy is motivating them to unite and get moving.

Amodei, for his part, has come out swinging.

As of Saturday, his campaign had brought in about two-thirds as much cash as Marshall’s.

Following his nomination, Amodei released an ad that might politely be described as “attention-grabbing” (though others have used spicier terminology) focused on the issue of the national debt. Amodei’s campaign concedes it’s “provocative.” However, they also clearly see the issue of the national debt — and the debt limit — as a major concern in the district, as it is nationally. According to Amodei consultant Rob Stutzman, “We see the debt limit as a very timely and important issue, particularly for the voters of Nevada … Mark was anxious to set the agenda for what this race is about.” So, too, is the National Republican Congressional Committee, it seems: On Wednesday, the NRCC released a Web ad focused on the national debt entitled “Kate Marshall’s Chinese Credit Card.”

Marshall, for her part, has been arguing that the race is about many of the usual catch-phrases popular with Democratic candidates running in Republican districts while seeking not to offend. To summarize a fundraising email, her goals are to stand for working families, create jobs, control runaway spending and make government perform for Nevadans, not for special interests. But observers of the race say Marshall is already veering far to the right in an effort to appear more conservative than she really is. One individual watching the race closely characterized Marshall as in truth more Hillary Clinton than Heath Schuler.