Vegas Chamber rallies for endorsed primary candidates

Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mary Beth Sewald. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Revi ...

A prominent Las Vegas business group is throwing its political weight into rallying voters to the polls ahead of Nevada’s primary elections in an effort to support candidates in “the sane middle.”

The Vegas Chamber is planning to go door-to-door in three state Assembly districts in Southern Nevada on Saturday hopes of swaying votes for candidates that the chamber’s political arm has endorsed, which includes both Republicans and Democrats. This is the first time the business group has engaged in this type of grassroots campaign.

“Voter turnout can be pretty low in the primaries, so those can be decided by a small number of a votes. The chamber is trying to let people know who the chamber is endorsing and why it’s important for them to engage,” Vegas Chamber President and CEO Mary Beth Sewald said.

The chamber, which promotes and advocates for local businesses and has more than 3,500 members, did not specify for which candidates it will be rallying. The Vegas Chamber has endorsed 27 candidates so far in races for state Senate and assembly, most of whom are incumbents, with a near-even mix of 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

Sewald said the chamber is looking to support candidates who are in the “sane middle,” which she said are those who understand the needs of small businesses and those who are “rational and see all sides of a potential piece of legislation.”

“What’s good for business is what’s good for our communities,” Sewald said. “The small businesses in Nevada are really the lifeblood and fabric of our communities.”

The chamber’s effort speaks to a broader trend of business groups looking to get involved in the early stages of races because the more moderate candidates they tend to prefer aren’t emerging from primaries, said Ken Miller, an assistant professor of political science at UNLV.

The early involvement from the chamber could be “tremendously influential,” at changing those outcomes, Miller added.

Primaries have lower turnout, and voters often have lower pre-existing knowledge of down-ballot candidates like those running for legislative districts. The more extreme wings of the parties also tend to be more more active in the primaries than those who identify as more moderate, which makes it harder to build support for the moderate candidates, Miller said.

Those smaller turnouts and vote margins mean that campaign activity and spending from groups like the Vegas Chamber can yield significant results for their targeted efforts.

“So if you have the chamber going out doing the work, doing the legwork, that’s an important buttress for the campaign and it closes that gap with the more extreme candidates,” Miller said. “That little nudge can be very effective.”

Sewald said that they don’t have any similar events planned just yet, but that the first foray will serve as a litmus test.

“If this goes well, and we have every reason to believe it will, we want to move the needle on some of these races,” she said. “The chamber has endorsed some of these candidates for a reason.”

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.