Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

The Angle-less Special Election in Nevada’s 2nd

In House on May 27, 2011 at 8:45 am

Nevada's congressional districts. The 2nd extends north over the entire remainder of the state.

Sharron Angle, the Tea Party-backed conservative who upset the Republican establishment with her GOP Senatorial primary win last year, abruptly announced that she will not file as a candidate for the Sept. 13 special congressional election in Nevada’s 2nd district. Expressing displeasure toward the electoral system chosen for the early fall vote, Angle said the technical procedures are “…an illegitimate process that disenfranchises the electorate.”

Originally, Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that the special election would be open to all, and decided in just one voting contest. Termed a “ballot royal,” Miller copied the system used in Hawaii that features no nomination process. All candidates would have equal access to the special general ballot and the person receiving the most votes, regardless of percentage, wins the seat.

Miller made this ruling for several reasons. Primarily, it is the system that best gives his Democratic Party a chance of capturing the seat. Angle would have been strong within this format because of her solid political base, but so would a unified Democratic Party solidifying behind one candidate. If the Republicans split their votes among several contenders, the analysis showed, the Democrats, limiting their candidates to just state Treasurer Kate Marshall, could successfully steal the Republican-leaning seat.

Republicans objected to Miller’s dictate, saying he wrongly interpreted state election law. The parties themselves, the GOP argued, should be allowed to choose their nominees in caucus, similar to New York’s law, and have just two major party candidates on the ballot. Last week, a lower court judge ruled in favor of the GOP lawsuit saying that Miller’s decision was “unreasonable and absurd.” The Secretary of State and the Democratic Party are appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Candidates were originally to have filed earlier in the week (May 25th), but the judicial ruling forced Miller to extend the candidate declaration deadline all the way through June 30th. The state high court will likely make a ruling before the deadline expires.

It is obvious that Angle believes the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court ruling and allow the state party central committees to choose the special election nominees. She also knows she is not the choice of the Nevada Republican establishment. In her statement, Ms. Angle said she would consider running for public office again and did not eliminate the possibility of competing for the 2nd district in the regular cycle.

Though NV-2 will have a new incumbent before the 2012 general election, it is likely the new 2nd will be more to Angle’s liking. The current configuration in the three-seat state map allows the 2nd to touch all of Nevada’s 17 counties including dominant Clark, home to the city of Las Vegas.

Though the state’s new four-seat congressional map is in limbo today, the basic design seems clear. The Democratic legislature passed a map that had a similar look to the Republicans’ draw, but a far different partisan complexion and it led to a Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) veto. Though further effort was made up until legislative adjournment, the map will end up in court and judges will develop the final blueprint. Since the legislative intent clearly makes two Las Vegas city districts, one rural Clark County seat that stretches to the central part of the state, and a final district, the 2nd, that contains only the northern half of the state with its population anchors of Reno and Carson City, such will likely be the final map’s basis. In the two Democratic maps and one Republican, each used this same fundamental design.

This version will play right into Angle’s hands and may be what’s driving her decision to sit out the special election. Though she will face an incumbent in either the 2012 primary or the general vote, the district will be much different than the one electing the new congressman. So, it is very possible Ms. Angle will come roaring back in the regular cycle.

Republicans should win the seat, but after their party’s recent debacle in the NY-26 special election, it’s clear that anything can happen in these low turnout, irregular electoral contests.
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