December 10th, 2018

Inside The Beltway

H vs. H. 
by Michael Green

Bob Arum is a longtime Las Vegas resident who has promoted a lot of boxing in his time, including more than his share of rematches. Not that Steven Horsford and Cresent Hardy are getting into the ring, but somehow it feels like Arum should be involved, possibly with Howard Cosell announcing it.

In 2014, Hardy, then an assemblyman representing Mesquite and rural northeastern Clark County, challenged Horsford, who was completing his first term in the House. Hardy won, for reasons having to do with a Republican wave that swept the country, including Nevada, and that some of Horsford’s biggest supporters didn’t take the threat that Hardy posed seriously until it was too late.

Now, that could lead easily into a recounting of another very conservative guy with a last name beginning with H upsetting an incumbent Democrat: Chic Hecht’s defeat of Howard Cannon in 1982. But, no, we’re not going in that direction. Rather, both Horsford and Hardy are facing each other again for a federal office. Is that unusual in Nevada, and what does the past tell us about their respective chances?

Let us return to those thrilling days of yesteryear: 1888 and 1890. A Republican, Horace F. Bartine, won both times, as most Republicans did in those years. He seems to have been a good candidate: a Civil War veteran who enlisted when he was 15, a farmer-turned-mining entrepreneur-turned-lawyer, a former district attorney in Carson City.

Both times, his Democratic opponent, George W. Cassidy, was no slouch. He had served two terms in the House, spent several years in the state senate, and was a longtime newspaper editor (he co-founded the Eureka Sentinel) in the days when editors didn’t just report and even slant political news, but ran for office themselves or decided who would get to do so. Cassidy came from Kentucky and this was the era of “waving the bloody shirt,” where Republicans accused Democrats of being unpatriotic because they hadn’t been Abraham Lincoln (that is a slight overstatement, of course).

Cassidy went on to try again in 1892 but died before the election. Bartine chose not to run, moved to Chicago to run a pro-silver publication, then came back to Nevada and was a tax examiner and railroad commissioner. He decided to seek another term in the House in 1918, 30 years after his first election, and as a Democrat. Like Cassidy, he died during the campaign.

The next major rematch pitted Republican Representative Samuel Arentz against Democrat Maurice Sullivan, and that was quite a pair. An engineer involved in mining, railroads, and irrigation projects, Arentz had won a House seat in 1921, tried to move up to the Senate in 1922 and lost the primary, then came back and won the lone House seat for Nevada in 1924.

By then, Sullivan had been Nevada’s lieutenant governor for a decade. He had been elected just before his thirtieth birthday (presuming the statistics are right, and that makes him barely our youngest lieutenant governor ever, just a year more youthful than Harry Reid). He also was involved in mining, mainly supplying companies and workers, and passed the bar while he was lieutenant governor (in that job, you tend to have spare time).

In 1926, Sullivan challenged Arentz. It was a Republican year, and Arentz won without much trouble. Sullivan held off in 1928 and tried again in 1930, and came closer, but still lost—again, in a Republican year.

Arentz wound up losing 1932 when the Democratic tidal wave swept him out and former Governor James Scrugham in. Arentz died in 1934. Sullivan came back to win the lieutenant governor’s office in 1938 and then won a House seat in 1942—two decades after his first attempt. When he sought reelection in 1944, he lost in the primary to a Democrat and former U.S. senator from southern Nevada, Berkeley Bunker, and then retired from politics.

The real battle royals in that era, though, were for the U.S. Senate. In 1910, Key Pittman had sought the office for the first time and lost the preferential primary to the Republican incumbent. But state legislatures still elected U.S. senators—the 17th Amendment passed a couple of years later—and that year the legislature went Democratic. Pittman very honorably said, no, the people spoke, so I won’t challenge the result. When Nixon died in office, Pittman then won the race to succeed him.

The first time Pittman sought reelection, in 1916, he faced two opponents: Republican Samuel Platt, a Reno attorney, and Grant Miller, a Socialist. Really. Socialism had been on the rise in the U.S. at the time, and Nevada even had a socialist colony near Fallon. Pittman beat Platt by about 2,000 votes—and Miller got almost 30 percent of the vote.

Platt wasn’t done. He wanted to face Pittman again in 1922 but lost in the primary. He came back in 1928, had no primary, and lost the general election to Pittman.

Platt still wasn’t done. He held off six years later but, in 1940, eked out a primary win, and lost the general election to Pittman, who died five days after the voting.

Now, the big story told about that is usually how Pittman was in the hospital on election day, and rumors long spread that he actually died before the election, and Democrats kept it secret to be able to hold onto the seat. That wasn’t the case.

The other story is Platt. He was a distinguished citizen of Reno. He had owned the Reno Evening Gazette. He was a highly successful lawyer and active in the community. But even in a Republican year like 1928, when Herbert Hoover led the ticket, Platt didn’t come close again. And it appears certain that the fact that he was independent of the political machine operated by George Wingfield hurt his changes. It’s also likely that he was hurt by being Jewish. When he ran in 1928, it was a couple of years after the Ku Klux Klan had peaked in Nevada at ten klaverns around the state.

While Platt was fighting Pittman, Pat McCarran and Tasker Oddie had two donnybrooks. In 1932, Oddie sought a third term in the U.S. Senate. He had been prominent in Nevada forever—a co-founder of Tonopah in 1900, a state senator, and a one-term governor who was defeated for reelection (and ran again and lost to the same candidate, Emmet Boyle). In 1932, the wave that swept out Arentz also caught Oddie, and McCarran barely won.

McCarran was determined to hold onto the power he had fought so hard to win. He had run for the Senate several times and lost. In 1938, when he sought a second term, he had to overcome a primary challenger who had tacit support from Franklin Roosevelt, who disliked McCarran’s occasional attacks on his programs. But FDR backed off, seeing that McCarran would win.

Oddie challenged McCarran in 1938 and lost by a far bigger margin than the last time. McCarran went on to becoming a figure of towering importance and power in Nevada and Washington, D.C. Oddie retired from politics.

The future rematches would be for the House. In 1948, Democrat Walter Baring won the first of two terms in the House. In 1952, a big Republican year with Dwight Eisenhower atop the ticket, Baring barely lost to Republican Cliff Young. Two years later, Baring challenged him again and lost by a bigger margin. Baring ran again in 1956, and it appears he would have any which way, but this time Young tried to move up to the Senate, and Baring easily defeated the Republican nominee, Richard Horton. Two years later, Baring defeated Horton’s brother Robert, which isn’t quite a rematch, but is at least a fun bit of trivia. Baring ended up winning until 1972, when he lost the Democratic primary.

In 1982, for the first time, Nevada had two House seats, one for Las Vegas and the other for the rest of the state, including parts of Clark County. Harry Reid won the Las Vegas seat against Republican Peggy Cavnar. Two years later, they faced off again, with Reid winning. In 1986, Reid gave up the House race to run for the Senate, and we suspect you know what happened.

In 1982, the other seat went to Barbara Vucanovich, a Republican. It was a heavily Republican district—no Democrat has come closer than about 5,000 votes to winning the northern seat. In 1986, Reno Mayor Pete Sferrazza lost big to her, and did again in 1992—and he was still mayor; he’s now a Washoe County justice of the peace, and served on the Washoe County Commission in between those offices. Vucanovich retired undefeated, untied, and unscored upon in 1996.

Shelley Berkley also had a couple of rematches during her seven terms in the House (which ties Vucanovch; they’re second only to Baring, who was there for ten terms). In 2008 and 2010, she defeated Republican Ken Wegner.

Whether all of this information gives any guidance for or about Horsford or Hardy is unclear. Obviously, when you try again after a couple of years, you have to worry less about gaining name recognition—you’re still familiar. Horsford has been out for four years, which might have been more of a problem in the 1990s and early 2000s when Nevada was growing wildly, but the growth has slowed considerably, so he has fewer people to reintroduce himself to.

One factor to consider popped up in several of the references: which party is doing better. That isn’t always the case—when Reid won his first House race, Hecht won the Senate but Democrat Richard Bryan won the governorship, so there was some division. But it’s usually the case, which means that Hardy and Horsford might be visiting a lot of places in Nevada, but they also will be casting their eyes around the country.

Top