Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman eyes running for Governor

We know that current Governor, Jim Gibbons, is on the political equivalent of life-support right now so that tends to get other candidates thinking about what the future might hold for them.  Someone giving that future a lot of thought is the self-proclaimed "happiest mayor in the world", Oscar Goodman.

According to the Review Journal (who, based on the following open), may not be in the mayor's corner:

Could Oscar Goodman be Nevada’s Jesse Ventura? (ouch!)

The larger-than-life Las Vegas mayor confirmed Thursday he is considering a run for governor as an independent candidate not affiliated with a political party.

Under term limits, Goodman’s third and final term as mayor ends in 2011. A Democrat, he has periodically floated the idea of running for governor or other higher office over the years, but the idea of an independent run is new.

Goodman recently talked about the possibility with Ventura, the former professional wrestler known as “The Body” who successfully ran as an independent for governor of Minnesota.

“It was a great conversation. He’s very cool,” Goodman said Thursday. Goodman reached Ventura, who left politics after one term, at his home in remote Baja, Mexico, where he spends most of his time surfing.

“He’s a very smart guy. We talked for about 45 minutes,” Goodman said. “We shared ideas, and I said I’d be talking to him again.”

By running as an independent, Goodman could position himself as a “total maverick,” appealing to voters who are disaffected with partisan politics.

“That’s the way I ran as mayor,” he said. “I do it my way. It’s always worked for me.”

A former mob lawyer, Goodman, 69, is known for a flamboyant style that he says helps promote Las Vegas as a destination. He has an endorsement contract with a brand of gin and routinely appears at public events with a scantily clad showgirl in full headdress on each arm, accompanied by an Elvis impersonator.

Goodman previously had said he would wait to decide whether to run for governor in 2010 until the 2009 legislative session ended. Now that it’s over, he said, “I’m considering all options.”

“It’s just in the rudimentary, talking stages at this time,” Goodman said of the potential run. “Basically, I’ve enjoyed the past eight years as an independent and a nonpartisan for all intents and purposes. When folks come up to see me, I don’t see a 'D’ or an 'R’ next to them, I see a constituent. It’s pretty nice doing business that way rather than the old political hack way of doing it.”

Goodman said he was a Republican when he first moved to Las Vegas in the 1960s.

Goodman switched parties to vote for former Gov. Richard Bryan in the Democratic primary, but said he has never strongly identified as a partisan.

The mayor’s position is a nonpartisan office. While candidates often get support from political parties, no affiliation appears on the ballot.

In talking to others who have run independent campaigns, Goodman said, he has learned that “it’s very, very difficult to lose a major party’s support.” The two major parties boost candidates by providing formidable organizational and financial resources.

Even Ventura didn’t run entirely without affiliation: He was the candidate of the Reform Party of Minnesota, which doesn’t have a Nevada counterpart.

But an independent run also would allow Goodman to avoid a potentially crowded Democratic primary field. Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, and Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid both are expected to mount strong campaigns for the nomination.

Getting on the ballot as an independent candidate is remarkably easy. For statewide office such as governor, it takes a petition with the signatures of 250 registered Nevada voters, to be submitted in early February prior to the March candidate filing period, Clark County Registrar Larry Lomax said.

Independent candidates must not themselves be registered with a political party, so Goodman would have to switch his registration from Democrat.

Goodman’s political consultant, Jim Ferrence, said the mayor would have strong appeal with the 20 percent of Nevada voters not registered with either major party, as well as with the many Democrats and Republicans who have tired of partisanship.

Political science professor David Damore of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Goodman could be a good fit for the sort of outsider political figure embodied by Ventura or 1990s presidential candidate Ross Perot. But it’s unclear how well-known he is outside of Southern Nevada.

“He’s going to have to create an entire organization from scratch, and that’s no easy deal, particularly for someone who’s never run outside the city of Las Vegas,” Damore said.

In a general election with a Democrat, a Republican and Goodman, Goodman would be likely to take more votes away from the Democratic candidate, potentially helping the Republican nominee to victory, Damore said.

There’s no doubt Goodman’s presence in the race would be entertaining, he said. But given the situation the state is in, voters may be looking for a serious, substantive campaign rather than goofy antics.

“What’s he going to say, 'Happy Hour for everybody’?” Damore wondered.

As with all Goodman’s political feelers, it’s impossible to know how serious he is about this idea. But the mayor said he would have to make a decision soon, and Ferrence said it probably would be by the end of July.

“I have to have an answer very, very soon because everybody’s out there making announcements and collecting money, and I’m drinking martinis,” Goodman said.