Thursday, Nov. 1, 2001 | 9:50 a.m.
Although the gubernatorial election is a little more than a year away, Gov. Kenny Guinn appears more than ever on his way to an easy re-election as Democrats once again scramble to find a candidate.
Clark County Commissioner Erin Kenny's decision Wednesday not to run for governor came as little surprise, but also officially served a death knell to Democrats hoping for a big-name politician to give Guinn a run.
Publicly, Democrats aren't throwing in the towel, even though they candidly admit they have a very bumpy road between now and November 2002.
"It ain't gonna be easy," State Democratic Party Chairman Terry Care said Wednesday after Kenny's decision. "I'm not going to say it's already too late, but it's going to be a difficult race.
"Beating an incumbent governor is always hard," Care added.
Guinn has already raised about $1.5 million for what is currently an unopposed election. Although his campaign team isn't popping the champagne just yet, they are convinced Guinn has a terrific chance to spend four more years in Carson City.
"Certainly we're not taking anything for granted," said Pete Ernaut, Guinn's former chief of staff and current campaign chairman. "But the governor's been a strong leader, and the other party's inability to find someone to run is testament to that."
Democrats, led by Sen. Harry Reid, tried for months to entice Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman into running. When Goodman publicly announced several weeks ago that he would not run, many turned to Kenny -- the only other Democrat they believed had a chance.
Kenny cited family concerns and the desire to finish current county projects in a statement announcing her decision not to run for governor.
"I have one of the most wonderful and supportive families, but a statewide race of this magnitude would just put too much pressure and strain on all of us," Kenny said. "In addition, there are numerous challenges in my district and in my personal life that I want to complete before I leave office."
Care said he understands Kenny's decision, because campaigning for statewide office is physically and mentally grueling and increasingly expensive.
"We're still talking to people," Care said. "We have a year to go."
Former Mirage executive Dan Lee is considering running for governor, but he has not yet made a decision, Care added.
Filing for statewide offices closes May 31, but so far Democrats have only one somewhat known candidate for any of the six constitutional offices.
Currently, Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa is the only Democrat among the six constitutional offices. Del Papa has decided not to run, and Republican Brian Sandoval has already jumped vigorously into the race, keeping potential Democratic candidate Jim Gibson -- the mayor of Henderson -- out.
State Assemblyman John Lee, D-Las Vegas, has announced his intent to run against Controller Kathy Augustine, but the other constitutional offices are thus far unopposed. Republicans could likely make a clean sweep of those offices and retain the majority in the state Senate.
But the governor's race is the big one, and recent history proves you have to raise money and start campaigning long before Election Day.
"A lot can happen in a year, but in an ideal world you'd have a candidate a year ahead of time at least," Care said.
Democrats are now lauding Lee for a potential candidacy.
But Ernaut and his team aren't too worried.
"There has to be a compelling reason for people to want a new governor," he said.