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As Candidates Line Up, Questions Grow

The race for governor--with two candidates each for the Democrats and Republicans-- is shaping up to be one of the more competitive and interesting in years.

But what about the lieutenant governor?

And, of course, five-time candidate Danny Tarkanian wants to be a U.S. senator and is aligning himself with President Trump, a strategy he believes can unseat incumbent Dean Heller.

What does Heller believe?

Jon Ralston is with us trying to find some answers.

On the race for governor - Democrats:

It looks like Chris Giunchigliani is going to get into the race. Although what Steve Sisolak is doing right now... he is sending out all these endorsements, including this morning law enforcement endorsements, trying to dissuade her from getting into the race, essentially saying 'I have all the institutional support locked up. Don't get in.'

I don't think that is going to deter Chris Giunchigliani unless people she trusts tell her that she can't win.

On who the Culinary Union will support:

The Culinary Union has been on the sidelines so far. They had that massive political operation last cycle. The question is whether they're going to be able to replicate that this time and what they'll do with it. 

It is going to be tough for them. There is going to be a lot of pressure on them to get involved if there is that primary, but so far they've been pretty mum.

On the race for governor - Republican:

The entire conservative base is behind [Adam Laxalt] and even though he is a newcomer. He hasn't even lived in Nevada that long. He was born here and then essentially left for most of his life and came back five or six years ago.

He's done... [a] remarkable thing which is he's cleared the field. Both Dean Heller and Mark Hutchison, the lieutenant governor who is retiring, wanted to run for governor but were essentially scared out of the race by Laxalt because he has done such a masterful job of courting the conservative base.

All Dan Schwartz has is a kind of a rock-throwing, I'm-an-outsider, I-don't-like-lobbyists, Adam-Laxalt-is-owned-by-the-special-interests kind of campaign.

No one I know thinks Dan Schwartz can win that race. I think it is a very, very uphill struggle for him. 

On who "Brian Sandoval Republicans" might like in this race:

Maybe they would like term limits to be lifted so Brian Sandoval could run again. They are going to be for a Republican governor. They are going to like Laxalt a lot more than Schwartz because he's more of an establishment Republican. 

Schwartz is kind of the honey badger of Nevada politics. He just doesn't care. So, he's just going to say whatever he needs to say. He's done a ton of media interviews. He's going to be very accessible. He's going to say, 'I was the canary in the coal mine... on Faraday,' which he turned out to be right about.

On the race for lieutenant governor - Michael Roberson:

Who is Michael Roberson is a very good question, because he is a very different guy now than the guy who first ran six years ago when he was to the right of Adam Laxalt then suddenly he's the guy who is pushing the largest tax increase in Nevada history. And then suddenly in 2017, he's as far right as you can go. 

Roberson is not to be underestimated... he's very ambitious.

Lieutenant governor is a joke. Lieutenant governor barely did anything before but most of the duties that did exist, such as economic development have been taken away by the governor. 

Lieutenant governor essentially exists to preside over the State Senate maybe break ties, which almost never happens. And do whatever else the governor lets you do.

He's running for lieutenant governor because he's ambitious. Nobody runs for lieutenant governor because they want to be lieutenant governor. They want to be governor. They want to be a U.S. senator. Roberson has always wanted to go to Washington. He's going to try to use it as a spring board should he be elected.

On the race for lieutenant governor - Kate Marshall:

Kate Marshall is relentlessly ambitious too. She's a two-term state treasurer. She ran in a special election against Mark Amodei in 2011 and got completely obliterated by Amodei. She has been essentially on the outs since then, trying to find a way back in. 

She wanted to run against Dean Heller for U.S. Senate but was essentially told by the powers that be - Harry Reid, who is still the leader of the powers that be - that Jacky Rosen was the choice.

She has thought about running for offices, but now she has alighted on lieutentant governor.

So, you have these two really aggressive ambitious people running on both sides of that race who will not be afraid to take each other on. So, even though it is a nothing job, it could be a fun race to watch.

On Danny Tarkanian:

It is easy to make fun of a guy who has run that many times and not been successful. He has won primaries though four out of the five times he's been on a primary ballot. 

The news is Dean Heller is in trouble. He's got terrible numbers. He was not a big Trump supporter. He's trying to suck up to Trump now by his votes on health care and what he's doing on health care. But a lot of Republicans hold him responsible for the Obamacare repeal failing because of the press conference he had with Gov. Sandoval, saying they would oppose efforts to gut Medicaid.

Tarkanian is pummeling him. [Tarkanian] already had favorable treatment in Breitbart, which is kind of the organ of the far right. Now, Steve Bannon, who is running Breitbart again, met with Tarkian last week, Politico reported. [Bannon] has apparently pledged this jihad against a lot of GOP senators, including Dean Heller. 

[Bannon] is very close with a billionaire named Robert Mercer. If he can get Mercer to fund some of these PACs that Bannon wants to use to defeat incumbents then Tarkanian has a chance.

I don't think Danny Tarkanian should be underestimated in a primary at all. 

Jon Ralston, founder, The Nevada Independent

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.