By SHERMAN FREDERICK
Stay tuned to next year’s race for Nevada lieutenant governor. Normally a yawner, the race has national implications and could test the bounds of abortion politics.
Here’s why the rest of the country should pay attention.
The state’s immensely popular governor, Republican Brian Sandoval, likely will have a cakewalk re-election campaign in 2014. That would set him up to run in 2016 against Nevada’s most powerful U.S. senator ever, Majority Leader Harry Reid.
But Sandoval won’t abandon the governor’s mansion midterm unless a Republican lieutenant governor is in office to take over.
Hence, the importance of the lieutenant governor’s race. Currently there are two GOP candidates in the race — state Sen. Mark Hutchison and former state Sen. Sue Lowden.
Last week, Reid began touting a little-known state assemblywoman for the job — Las Vegas attorney Lucy Flores.
“I think she could beat them all,” Reid gushed to Reno Gazette-Journal political writer Ray Hagar. “Demographically, she’s perfect. Young, dynamic, Hispanic. She’s great.”
Reid has skin in this game. If he can find somebody — anybody — capable of winning the lieutenant governor’s race next year, it might keep Sandoval out of Reid’s race in 2016. In his last election in 2010, Reid beat up a little-known, flawed GOP challenger, former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. Sandoval is no Sharron Angle.
So here comes Reid touting Flores.
A Democratic polling firm, Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, tested the waters for Flores.
Las Vegas Review-Journal political writer Laura Myers reported last week that in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, Flores lost to Hutchison, 41 percent to 35 percent. But once respondents were read a script explaining Flores’ background, she edged Hutchison by a narrow margin.
The history they read was this:
“Lucy grew up as one of 13 children in a low-income Hispanic family. Her mother left home when she was 9 years old, and she was raised by her father. Lucy got involved with gangs and was sentenced to juvenile detention for stealing a car. She dropped out of high school, and at age 16 she became pregnant and had an abortion because she did not want to be a teenage mother like her sisters.
“Lucy decided to turn her life around, earned her GED, attended community college, earned a scholarship to the University of Southern California, and graduated from law school at UNLV.”
Upon hearing Flores’ hard-knock background, those polled described her as “strong,” “determined” and a “go-getter.”
The complete poll was not released to the media. You can bet there’s good reason for that. The poll likely revealed potential problems in selling the untested Flores to a statewide electorate. For now, the job is to present Flores as a viable candidate who, under the right circumstances, has a path to victory.
But her abortion remains a wild card. Consider, for example, how the poll slips into the narrative her abortion as a teen, like it was one more box to check off in a quest to straighten up and fly right.
— Quit gang. Check.
— Get GED. Check.
— Abort baby. Check.
— Go to USC. Check.
Wait? What was that second-to-last one?
The idea that pollsters would test the termination of a pregnancy in the context of how a 16-year-old escaped a life going badly to pull herself up from her bootstraps indicates that somebody in that polling firm knows exactly how tricky negotiating the issue of abortion can be — even when dressed up in a story as compelling as Lucy Flores’.
Abortion is not a disqualifier for public office, of course. And the point here is not to judge Lucy Flores. Abortion is a hard call — but it’s not the only call. Women get the raw end of the deal; men skate with little consequence.
But let’s be honest. Characterizing Flores’ abortion in the way this polling firm did doesn’t begin to answer all the questions she will face in such an important race.
And it’s all going to unfold before our eyes in an effort to save Harry Reid.
Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. This could be a wild one.
Sherman Frederick is former editor of the Tribune-Herald and former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.