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The Midweek Mop-Up With Former Nevada Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki
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The Midweek Mop-Up With Former Nevada Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki

On life as a candidate and why jujyfruits are the perfect trail food

We’ve heard from a lot of people from different parts of campaign world for this newsletter, but I knew there was one glaring omission: a candidate. I wanted to find someone who had been in the trenches down-ballot or who had run state-wide but not in a federal race. 

And, boom, I knew who we needed to hear from this week: Brian Krolicki, the 33rd Lieutenant Governor of Nevada. 

Why Brian? First of all, he’s incredibly charming and thoughtful. Second, he’s done it all—down ballot as state treasurer and then twice as lieutenant governor—and he’s clearly not someone who planned his whole life around running for office. Third, Nevada is a weird state to run in because it has two big population centers and then a whole bunch of people spread out over a big area. It’s wildly different than running in, say, Texas or California or Florida or North Carolina. Fourth, he said yes. 

It’s easy to look at campaigns and only see the glamour: the attention from wealthy donors, the free dinners, being whisked off in a black SUV. But that’s a pretty small chunk of a candidate’s time. And unless you’re running for president, governor, or senate—you’re often on your own. Most of your time is spent on the phone asking for money while driving your own car. You are waking up at 4am for a local TV interview, ordering a deeply unsatisfying salad from the McDonald’s drive-thru because your pants aren’t fitting the way they used to, and trying to stay awake on your drive home at midnight listening to Delilah on the radio like you’ve done every night for the last 6 weeks. And you don’t actually get to eat the free dinner because you’re the entertainment. (Note: Smart candidates will ask for their dinner to be wrapped up so they can wolf it down in the car after they say their goodbyes for the evening.)

With that, let’s see what Brian has to tell us …

Sarah: When you first ran for state treasurer—a state-wide office in Nevada—you stepped into the arena, what was the biggest surprise? 

Brian Krolicki: If everyone who said they supported me actually did, then I would have won with 100 percent. Big lobbyists: “Brian, no matter what you hear, I’m really for you.”

But, you know, there are always surprises. I mean, I’m an investment banker, that’s what I used to do to make a living. Long time ago. Then I was in public service for 24 years. For eight of those first years I was the chief deputy treasurer for Nevada. I helped to run the race for state treasurer in that first year. So I just came into office with the guy. There was a tragic plane crash that took his wife, so it was just some very unique circumstances, but this was my 90-day favor to help this gentleman after working on the campaign. 

I thought: “It’ll be interesting on my resume to be the chief deputy treasurer.” Twenty-something years old, massive cut in pay, but I never left. So my 90 days turned into a 24 year career, and every time I got a new job I got a lower paycheck. My father-in-law thought that was interesting. 

But I think what surprised me—well not surprised, but when you’re actually in it, raising money is a massive part of it. 

Sarah: I don’t know a single candidate who wouldn’t say this.

Brian: It probably took three times the energy and time itself to raise things than you thought it would. Why does it take three phone calls, a dozen phone calls, to secure that help when they said yes on the first one? 

But on the flip side, I was surprised at how readily people just want to help. So it took a third of the time I expected to round up volunteers and things. A treasurer’s race is not the most profound thing on everyone’s mind, certainly in Nevada, where all the other constitutional offices are on the ticket or there’s a presidential or senate race. So I understand where that race is in the pecking order of politics. But it was just heartwarming, the things that people do for you, the people who don’t know you do for you, just because they believe you’ll do a great job. How cool that a little senior-aged lady would talk to all her neighbors and send me a $20 check every month, which I know was incredibly important, invaluable to her? 

Sarah: Fast forward, and you’re working your way up the ballot. When you run for lieutenant governor, either the first or second time, which campaign tactics—whether it’s robocalls, TV ads, direct mail, debates, whatever it is—which campaign tactics did you think made a difference, were worth the money, were overrated, you wouldn’t do again, you would do more of, etc.?

Brian: State treasurer race versus lieutenant governor race, you go from six figures to seven figures. It is a different business proposition. There are 17 counties in Nevada. Clark County, though, is home to 65 to 70 percent of the people. So that is its own market, its own television, and there’s just no way you can touch all these folks. So television was terribly important; the debates were terribly important. 

I think endorsements and newspapers were really important at that time. [Krolicki was first elected lieutenant governor in 2006.] Now, some of these newspapers, not to be pejorative, but are homogenized in ways or are national operations now. Now the local reporting crew is lacking, if you will, but at that time, it was important. 

Sarah: That’s been a huge change from the communications side. 

Brian: And then rural Nevada, you had to be at every Founder’s Day dinner, parade. You’d spend 12 hours in a vehicle back and forth to spend two hours at some reception or some parade or a pancake breakfast, but you just did that. If you want us to respect you with our vote, you need to respect us with your time. So that was important. 

Robocalls were kind of new then—I’m feeling old saying that. Now we’re all inundated with them, and don’t like them, but I think they were terribly effective. To have the right people—I had a former state treasurer and the former state controller do phone calls for me. I think in the lieutenant governor’s race, there were just so many different calls coming in that I think they lost their effectiveness or there was an evolution there. 

And just because you have to do it, you did the mailer. It was not efficient but it was almost mandatory. People needed to see your stuff in the garbage can and the post office. But you know what, they saw your face, had your little message, had whatever soundbite. It made people believe you were legitimate because you actually took the time to have a professional mailing done. So it doesn’t make you fringe, it makes you kind of mainstream.

Sarah: Okay, slight digression. Do you think there’s a personality, a single personality, that someone has to have to be a successful candidate. For instance, I assume you’re an extrovert because you ran for office. Do you think introverts can run for office, do you need to have a certain joy of meeting strangers?

Brian: I think there is absolutely not a certain profile that uniquely excels in political campaigns. I’ve seen some dear friends and some lovely opponents who were actually incredibly shy if you had them in a room full of people, but you put them in campaign gear or in front of a room, it just clicked and they knew how to do it. 

To me, it’s a challenge. There’s a science. You look at a room, usually you would have hopefully a host or a contact in that room so there’s somebody to escort you around and give you credibility. And the organization’s president or the matriarch of this group has me on their arm, so that’s obviously important for body language. Just the technique of looking at a room and asking, “Where are the people who seem to be the center of attention?” 

Sarah: When people watch movies or television or whatever about running for office, there’s sort of two versions. One is the Jed Bartlett version from The West Wing, where he’s the father figure and all the staff simply are there to execute his grand strategy.

Brian: Jed Bartlett was a great president.

Sarah: One of America’s best, for sure. But then there’s the other version where, in fact, the candidates are at best puppets. They’re just doing whatever the strategists say, and the strategists are sort of these Wizards of Oz, all knowing, “here’s how you win an election; just do what I say.” How would you describe the relationship between a candidate and his general consultant or campaign manager?

Brian: I think it needs to be guarded until proven. And there’s a big difference between somebody running for the first time where you haven’t been in the trenches. You haven’t had those really, really bad days on the trail where something unexpected and negative happened and you have a relationship with people through cycles with a campaign team.  

Most people running for office have never run before or they run and they lose. And they don’t ever do it again. So there are a lot more losing candidates in a campaign cycle than the winners. But I think the campaign consultant types have become very hardened. I think their job is to win. And whatever it takes to win, that’s their batting average, that’s their ability to charge fees. That’s their ability to engage mail houses and sign printers and purchase television. It expands their own brand. 

Sarah: To your point, the incentives aren’t always well aligned, depending on the race.

Brian: I think a lot of these campaign consultants are in their own branding business and the commodity is the candidates. But most candidates don’t recognize that. They just are very comforted that they’ve got someone in a team who will make sure you do everything right. But sometimes the mechanics can differ from what the message is that you want to deliver. 

Not all campaigns, but certainly in every competitive campaign, there’s a moment where you have to decide if you go negative. You know everyone hates it. You know what I’m about to say, but we still do it because it works for 5 percent of the people, and that’s hugely important. But you need to have the heft, the principle, to do what’s right. 

Your question is about being your own person or listening and being handled by staff. I think you need to be both to be successful. Take advice. People have done this before, there are ways to execute it, there are ways to skillfully answer questions, but you still must be authentic, I think. 

Money helps diminish the need to be authentic but people see through it. They want to be comfortable. They want to believe. They want to have an understanding of how you will execute your duties. Campaign slogans—you can probably put all of them, some variation into 10 little snippets. But I think authenticity is important. If you’re just being handled you lose much of that and I think people can see it.

Sarah: Okay, last question and obviously the most important. What is your go to campaign road warrior fuel. Whether it’s a certain brand of coffee, or Panera, or McDonald’s french fries. 

Brian: It evolved. I wish it was that simple.

Sarah: I like that this is a really nuanced question for you.

Brian: My metabolism has evolved so my options have become more restricted. You know, McDonald’s french fries have always been historically important in Nevada. It’s a fuel. And the more you can snatch from others around you, the better. I like to go to Arby’s breakfast. 

Sarah: Oh, that’s so disgusting.

Brian: But no, I’m a coffee guy. But rural Nevada did not know what Starbucks was. They had McDonald’s coffee but McCafe didn’t exist yet. Every town in rural Nevada is like 80 miles to 100 miles apart, so you caffeinate. And try to make it to the next on a cup of coffee just to stay awake on those rural roads and hopefully not make some new roadkill for the local restaurant. Today, I’m more of a yellow Red Bull guy: very efficient, swift and it’s cold. Governor Sandoval and I would eat jujyfruits across Nevada to stay awake in the middle of the night. We each had young families.

Sarah: Jujyfruits are gross.

Brian: But you know what, they take a lot of effort. They stay in your teeth for a long time. Something to occupy yourself mechanically, to stay awake when it’s midnight and you’ve still got five hours before you get home or to your car. 

Brian and I would stage a car on one side of the state. Usually the west side. But he lived in Reno and I lived south of Reno. You’d keep each other awake. You go to a dinner until 10 o’clock at night, you’re not going to get home till two in the morning or three in the morning. 

You have your little tools. He likes frappuccinos too. Just sugar and caffeine, a cheap rush but it works.

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.