The Nevada Senate Race
Nevada recently went through a very contentious race for the United States senate. This race was between Democrat Jack Carter (son of former United States president Jimmy Carter) and Republican John Ensign. The election was notable for not only the personal attacks each candidate made on the other, but for the drastic nature of the differences of opinion between the two candidates, which was almost as stark as the difference between night and day. The outcome of the election would show, to a large degree, just what the feelings and opinions of the people of Nevada were on a wide variety of issues, and would have an impact on the future make-up of the United States Senate.
Carter has only lived in Nevada for three years, having moved there from Bermuda with his wife because they liked the climate and affordable housing (Sonner, 2006). Carter’s short time in Nevada is something that Ensign was quick to pounce on in the campaign, claiming Carter was not a true Nevadan. Ensign also accused Carter of being a carpetbagger, since many of Carter’s campaign contributions came from people outside of Nevada. Meanwhile, Carter attacked Ensign for his penchant for siding with President Bush ninety-six percent of the time, saying that even though Ensign has deep roots in Nevada, he may as well come from Texas in how often he agreed with the president. Carter and Ensign differed on just about every issue, from stem cell research (Carter supports it, Ensign only supports it on adult stem cells) to immigration (Ensign wants to build a fence to secure the U.S. borders while Carter wants to ease the path of citizenship for those immigrants who are already here) (Sonner, 2006).
The Nevada senate race could easily be used as an example in an American Government class. In fact, it could fit into a discussion of national government (particularly the legislative branch) and of elections. Since the campaign in question is for a national political office, this campaign could be referenced in a discussion of the Senate. While discussing the Senate and what its job is in the national government, how it works, what specific powers it has, and why we have it, it would also be useful to discuss the qualifications for becoming a senator and how often senatorial elections are held, as well as what the leadership of the senate is and how those leadership positions are filled. The Nevada senate race could be referenced in any of these discussions. For example, if Democrats take control of the senate and Jack Carter wins, then he would be eligible for a leadership position in the senate, while John Ensign would have to be content with a leadership in the minority party at most, and the minority party has no real power to set the agenda in the senate as the majority party does (O‘Connor & Sabato, 2005).
The Nevada senate race could also be discussed in a section on national elections. The process of announcing and launching one’s candidacy, primary elections, the campaign process, campaign staff, campaign contributions and expenses, and the general election are all normally discussed when talking about national elections. The candidates and events of the Nevada senate race could be used as examples throughout this discussion. This campaign could also be referenced while discussing qualifications for national office, especially considering Carter’s relative newcomer status in Nevada (he qualifies to run for senate by having an established residence in Nevada). Election years are particularly exciting times to be in an American Government class, and the Nevada senate race could provide useful examples and anecdotes in a variety of discussions on our political institutions and processes.
As it turns out, Ensign won the Nevada senate race (“Elections 2006“, 2006). Ensign had a few things going for him that Carter did not have. Ensign was the incumbent, meaning he already held the senate seat he was running for. Incumbents traditionally have an advantage over challengers, in that constituents recognize an incumbent’s name and know with relative certainty what to expect from an incumbent. An incumbent also has an easier time of raising money for his or her campaign than a challenger, for similar reasons of recognition, and more money translates into an easier time getting one’s message out to the public. Ensign also has deep Nevada roots, going back to his great-grandparents, and his fellow Nevadans likely responded to this, feeling more like Ensign was one of them than the relative newcomer Carter. Finally, Ensign is a Republican in a heavily Republican state. While Carter had the name of his father to rely on, and the advantage of being a Democrat in an election season where most of the citizenry of the United States was looking for change, those advantages were not enough to overcome Ensign’s advantages. Looking back, it really is not surprising that Ensign won, and by such a large margin. Ensign was ahead in the polls from the start, and in the end, there really wasn’t much of a question as to who would win this election.
Sonner, Scott. “Candidates in Nevada’s Senate Race Spar.” Newsvine.com.
“Elections 2006.” CNN.com. <www.cnn.com/elections/2006.> 2006.
O’Connor, Karen, and Sabato, Larry J. American Government: Continuity and
Change, 8th Edition. Longman: New York: 2005.