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December 18, 2014

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MEMO FROM CARSON CITY:

Are you ready for … a longer general election cycle?

Imagine a primary battle in the race for governor.

Two Democrats are facing off — a state legislator and a local government leader. The legislator wins the nomination but emerges from the brutal contest with little funding for the general election campaign.

The legislator’s Republican opponent pummels her for months with television ads before she can respond.

The Republican rides to victory.

Such was the situation four years ago, when then-state Sen. Dina Titus beat Henderson Mayor James Gibson for the Democratic nomination, but exhausted her campaign coffers in the primary fight.

Titus lost to Gov. Jim Gibbons, then a congressman, in the general election.

A similar scenario could play out in 2010. Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid appear headed for a bitter and potentially costly primary battle for the Democratic nomination.

A little-noted piece of legislation, however, makes that scenario less likely. Senate Bill 162’s passage moves primary elections to June, two months earlier than in the past. By creating a longer general election season, the new law will allow parties’ nominees to regroup and replenish their campaign coffers.

Nevada political races have had a certain tempo — run hard primary races until August, then winners quickly transition to general-election mode for the three-month sprint to November.

Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, who sponsored similar legislation in the Assembly, listed a number of reasons why the change is good policy.

When the primaries were held in August “turnout was just miserable,” he said. “It’s just a terrible time in Southern Nevada to have an election.”

It also gives election officials more time to prepare for the general election. And there is the political reality of repairing rifts within parties and raising money for the general election.

In 2006, Titus and Gibson had a frayed relationship, and some of Gibson’s backers never came around to supporting Titus in the general election.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, a supporter of Buckley’s, said “having the primary in June is helpful to rebuild relationships after the primary. It’s helpful for both sides.”

Segerblom said: “Which party benefits more is speculative.”

But speculating is a part of politics, so it’s inevitable that insiders would guess which party will benefit most.

“As a party Democrats tend to have more spirited primaries,” said Dan Hart, a Democratic political consultant who is supporting Reid. “It takes a while after those kinds of elections to get everybody back on the same page and refocus the campaign.”

Still, in the 2010 race for governor, Democrats and Republicans appear to be headed toward competitive primaries.

Democrats have the Reid-Buckley face-off to look forward to. Republicans, despite having the incumbent, are still searching for the front-runner.

Gibbons has dismal approval numbers, according to polls, and little campaign cash. But he said again last week he is planning to seek reelection.

North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon and former state Sen. Joe Heck also say they are running. Some political insiders think the Republican field could grow, with Rep. Dean Heller and U.S. Attorney Greg Brower possibly entering the race.

SB162 will bring an earlier start to the political season. Candidates will declare intentions to run in March.

Robert Uithoven, who ran Gibbons’ 2006 campaign but is currently not affiliated with a campaign, said Gibbons will soon see if his former supporters will give him money to run a campaign.

“I think the governor will find out in the next 60 to 90 days whether he can run a viable primary campaign,” Uithoven said.

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