Is 2020 the year a Democrat wins Nevada’s Congressional District 2, an interview with Clint Koble

by Brian Bahouth

Clint Koble hopes to be the first Democrat to win Nevada's CD2 - image - Brian Bahouth

If you judge Clint Koble’s 2018 grass-roots bid for Nevada’s vast Congressional District 2, the campaign was the third most successful attempt by a Democrat in history of the district created in 1980. A Democrat has never held the seat that encompasses the entire northern half of the state, but headed into the 2020 election, CD2 is the lone congressional district of Nevada’s four not currently held by a Democrat. Clint Koble announced his candidacy to win the state party’s nomination to run for CD2 last week. Should he prevail, he would likely once again face incumbent Republican Mark Amodei, though it has been rumored that Amodei may retire from congress after this term. No matter the opponent, Koble stopped by the Innevation Center in Reno recently for an audio interview and said he doesn’t expect a crowded Democratic primary field for CD2 in 2020. He said he’s not taking his party’s nomination for granted but hopes to capitalize on the name recognition and experience he gained during his 2018 effort.

The Koble 2020 campaign has a very different vibe than in the past. Given greater volunteer and tech-savvy professional help, Clint Koble is poised to run a highly competitive campaign.

Long-time Nevada politico and incumbent Republican Mark Amodei raised greater than 7 times more money than Koble in 2018, yet Koble only lost by 58 to 42 percent. That margin of victory may seem large but based on a money raised to percentage of the vote won, Koble’s 2018 performance is the most cost-efficient campaign by a Democrat in the history of the 39-year-old district.

Data from the Federal Election Commission – graph – Nevada Capital News

The closest a Democrat has come to winning the district was in 1992 when Democrat Pete Sferazza lost to four-term incumbent Republican Barbara Vuchanovich 48 to 43 percent. Vuchanovich outspent Sferazza by a 3 to 1 margin.

The closest a Democrat has come to beating the Republican for CD 2 was in 1992 when Democrat Pete Sferazza narrowly lost to four term incumbent Republican Barbara Vuchanovich 48 to 43 percent of the vote - image - Nevada Capital News.
Data from the Federal Election Commission – graph – Nevada Capital News.

2006 marks the second most successful attempt by a Democrat to win CD2 when Jill Derby lost to Dean Heller 50 to 45 percent. Derby’s 2006 campaign is the high-water mark for corporate/union funding for the Democratic candidate in the history of CD2. Both Heller and Derby raised a little over 1.5 million dollars each.

Republican Dean Heller defeated Democrat Jill Derby 52 to 41 percent of the vote - image - Nevada Capital News.
Data from the Federal Election Commission – graph – Nevada Capital News.

In 2018, the Koble campaign did not accept corporate PAC money and worked to fund the campaign through individual contributions. Koble maintained a brutal travel schedule crisscrossing the fifth largest congressional district in the United States in a sunbaked Chevy sedan.

This is a campaign funding snapshot of Mark Amodei and Clint Koble roughly one month before the 2018 election – data from the Federal Election Commission – graph – Nevada Capital News

“Citizens United really concerns me,” Koble said. “I think that leads to a lot of unfairness and anxiety in people. We really need to do away with that. As far as me campaigning, getting contribution funds, like your paper, we’re not accepting any corporate PAC monies. We’re pretty well-people funded, probably much like your paper. So for me, when I go around the state, it’s person-to-person. It’s hard work. It’s that interaction that I think gives me more benefits, not just financial assistance. I think they have a vested interest in me and what I stand for, how I support them. And that’s how I pick up a lot of great volunteers.”

Koble spoke with Nevada Capital News before the 2018 election and arrived at the interview in his turn of the century car by himself. He largely ran the campaign with little assistance, but following the election, Koble said he received several calls to congratulate him on his effort and encourage him to run again. When Koble visited the Innevation Center recently, he was with a newly hired campaign manager and exuded a palpable sense of optimism.

“I feel I’m actually stronger now than on election day,” Koble said with a smile. “I’m going to build on that, build on that momentum, build on my name recognition … I feel I’m in a really, really good position.”

Headed into 2020, candidate Koble is intent to draw clear distinctions between himself and Mark Amodei. In 2009, President Obama appointed Koble to be the Nevada State Executive Director of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nevada Farm Services Agency. Koble knows rural Nevada well and believes both urban and rural Nevadans are tired of money in politics.

“Like your paper (Nevada Capital News), we don’t accept corporate PAC money. We are people powered and we’re going to really blow that horn a little bit because we’re trying to identify with people one-on-one. We’re people powered, and like I said before, it’s a lot of one-on-one. We don’t take corporate PAC money, so yes, that is a distinction, and we want to point that out because I think people are tired of money in politics, they’re tired of Citizens United, they’re tired of money not being accounted for. They just want to see a change, and we want to ride that change as much as we can.”

Koble said when he meets with voters, they tell him Congressman Amodei has abandoned them on bread and butter issues like healthcare, another concern in both rural and urban Nevada.

“For example, Congressman Mark Amodei has voted against the ACA (Affordable Care Act) at least 10 times or more. For me, that’s voting against the will of the people, the majority of the people. When we look back at Senator Heller, when he told the citizens of Nevada, the majority of citizens of Nevada who wanted him to support that (the ACA), he said he would, and then he didn’t. That cost him. I think any representative or would-be representative really has to represent the will of the people. You’ve got to be honest and direct.”

Most of CD2’s voters live in Washoe County. Data from Nevada Secretary of State’s Office – graph – Nevada Capital News

Koble is assembling a team of volunteers and paid staff with a far greater capacity for social media and outreach than in 2018. We asked him about the keys to success in 2020.

“It starts with building a good team. Next, it starts with volunteers. You need a great volunteer base. Yes, do you need social media? Of course you need social media. Do you need TV ads? Of course, you need TV ads; do you need electronic billboards, of course you need you need those. Do you need literature that you can mail or hand to people when you see them, you need all of those things, but we are going to use a lot more technology this time than we did last time, simply because we were under resourced, last election. Now we have access to that. And I have a great campaign manager that’s much more competent in those areas than I was, so we’re going to be using that. And we’ll be zooming into some of our constituents across the state. So we’re going to find great ways to connect with people.”

Historically, state and national political parties are hesitant to invest scarce resources in seats they perceive as unlikely wins. In 2018, Koble said he did not have the financial resources to partner with the state or national Democratic parties, but this time Koble believes he will raise much more money than he did in 2018, which will enable him to garner greater support from local, state and national parties.

“We know we’re going to raise the funds to be in the coordinated campaign and those types of things where we have to partner with the state. We’ve got a good working relationship with the state party. The state party has done really, really well in just approaching northern Nevada in the last couple of years, so we’re very encouraged by the state party. We look at them not as our adversary but as our partner. And we’re going to build on that and will do great things, and if we can get the state party, it makes it much easier to get the National Party.”

Data from the US Federal Election Commission – graph – Nevada Capital News

Koble said the state party sees him in a different light in the wake of his 2018 campaign.

“Immediately after the election, the state party recognized how well I did. They made reference to the fact that I helped bring out the vote in northern Nevada for some of the other larger candidates, so they see me as a viable candidate in a viable race. Getting 42 percent for the first time in at least 12 years with so little funding shows them that we have the metal to win and we are maybe the horse to bet on. So they’re looking at me in a much different light now than what they did before the election.”

Perhaps the most significant change from 2018 for Koble is hiring Clint Toledo as his campaign manager. Koble said he studied his 2018 campaign to learn where he failed and needed to improve, and adding the tech and campaign savvy Toledo could be key.

“When I chose Clint Toledo, I saw a young guy, an energetic Millennial, very tech savvy, who was also very experienced. He started running campaigns when he was 17 years old before he could even vote, so he’s got over a dozen years under his belt. And I think the most important thing for me with Clint Toledo is that I have a high degree of comfort level and trust with him. And that’s just really, really important because it’s a tough battle. You know that Brian, you’ve got to have someone that’s got your back, and I feel Clint’s got my back. We’re a good team, and even though we’re a little bit on different ends of the spectrum, age wise, we work well together, we support each other. And he’s been phenomenal for me. So I’m very, very happy that I’ve got him managing my campaign this time. And yes, it makes life a heck of a lot easier for me.”

As the campaign unfolds, Koble will work to illuminate his positions on a variety of issues, but a broader  imperative drives his candidacy.

“When I talk about platform, there’s the obvious issues,  healthcare and immigration reform, education, climate change, environment, public lands in public hands, but one of the challenges for me is to get across to people that I stand for equality and fairness, opportunity, and good governance. And when it comes to equality, or the lack of equality, when we have tax breaks for the top 1 percent or we have issues of fairness like Citizens United, or where the Supreme Court allows gerrymandering, people feel it’s just not fair. That doesn’t lead to free and fair elections. And when we have a big spectrum of income inequality, people feel like they just don’t have the opportunities to get from where they are to all the way across to the other end. Last election I talked a lot about good governance or the lack thereof. I still think that there’s a large sentiment among people who feel that their government is not working for them. When you pass bills in the middle of night, pass bills you don’t read, when you pass budgets you can’t sustain, when you’re filibustering, when you’re doing partisan politics, it’s like government’s not working. I think that leads to frustration and cynicism, disenfranchisement, it leads to disengagement.”

During his 2018 campaign, Koble developed a legacy of dogged hand-to-hand politics in both urban and rural parts of CD2. If he were to be elected to congress, Koble said the personal connections he develops during the campaign will be more important than party politics and guide his voting and advocacy as a congressman.

“I think there’s more and more people, more and more voters want someone to go to Washington that will have their back. I think that’s going to be more and more of a demand on people in Congress and in the Senate is to have their back. I understand party politics, but I understand who got me there, who sent me there and what they want, and that’s going to be my first obligation. Being a neophyte congressman, that’s going to be my first prerogative. Is it going to be easy to thread the needle? Probably not. But I’m an old farm boy. I work hard. I believe in what I’m doing and I’m there to do the right thing. There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing.”