Why you should care
Because she is defying stereotypes in a party desperate for fresh standard-bearers.
While modeling her way through law school in Miami, Lisa Song Sutton realized she needed a niche. So she found one — as one of only a few Asian women doing bikini and lingerie shoots in the South Beach area. “In 2006, there was, like, nobody. The two other Asian models were runway: like 5-foot-10, no curves — jacked-up teeth,” she says, laughing. “Totally different than my look.” When she later worked for a law firm in Las Vegas, that same mentality led her to co-found an alcohol-infused cupcake company — while there were 11 bakeries in the city at the time, her research showed only one specialized in getting you drunk. “Modeling taught me a lot of different lessons, one of which is that you have to figure out your brand.”
Now another title sits under her name: Republican congressional candidate for Nevada’s Fourth District. And in a nine-person primary, the 34-year-old stands out in a party often accused of being dominated by old White men. She is the only woman of color, one of only two in the field running small businesses with employees and definitely the only one to be crowned Miss Nevada and grace the pages of GQ, Sports Illustrated and Maxim.
That’s not to suggest she isn’t serious. Sutton raised more than any other Republican candidate in the third quarter ($128,000), and doubled her donors in the fourth. The Arizona native interned for the late Sen. John McCain and has a political science degree from the University of Arizona, in addition to her law degree from the University of Miami. “She goes for it; she’s always upbeat and positive. And even when things go wrong, she looks for solutions,” says Arun Garg, a dental surgeon and business mentor to Sutton.
Plus, her résumé suggests she would bring something different to Congress as the owner of four businesses — Ship Las Vegas shipping stores, the Elite Homes real estate company, Liquid & Lace swimwear and the cupcake startup.
There is an opportunity for regular folks like myself to come off the sidelines.
Lisa Song Sutton
“Let’s face it, our current representatives and elected officials … are not familiar with modern businesses, modern technology and are not advocating for it. We all watched the Facebook hearings!” Sutton said, speaking on a panel about Bitcoin regulation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month. Regulation “has to be balanced. It has to be the bear on the leash, that we maintain and control.”
Sutton recalled her outlook when her Sin City Cupcakes became the first bakery to accept Bitcoin in Las Vegas after it was legalized. “We were like, ‘Cha-ching, let’s go ahead and get it,'” she said. But when they called the state attorney general’s office to ask how to stay compliant with state law, the staffers were clueless. The story is meant to show the ineptitude of government’s response to new technology. But it also reveals something about Sutton when she adds, a bit slyly: “So we made up our own rules.”
Now Sutton is trying to remake the rules of politics, which would cast someone with her background as a lightweight in the Republican Party. And recent history suggests she has a shot. After all, Republican brothel owner Dennis Hof was elected to the Nevada Assembly in November 2018 … even after he had died from a party-induced heart attack at his Love Ranch a month before. This is the age of Donald Trump, where political experience is often a weakness. “There is an opportunity for regular folks like myself to come off the sidelines,” Sutton says.
Speaking after her CES appearance, Sutton is brimming with energy. Her ideas, and sentences, come a mile a minute. A desire to improve veterans’ care comes from her father, a Vietnam vet whose heart stent procedure revealed to her the inadequacies of VA hospitals. And she’s eager to fight for local property owners in a state where 80 percent of the land is federally controlled. When asked for any examples where she might disagree with President Trump, Sutton could not pinpoint anything, other than a vague concern that the economy could falter.
Immigration and national security issues particularly interest Sutton, who grew up near Fort Huachuca, just 15 miles from Arizona’s border with Mexico. “Sadly, the border has changed from the time that I grew up there,” she says. Her family used to cross the border to visit the Mexican town of Naco for lunch when they had guests. No longer. “It’s run by the cartels,” Sutton says. “Border agents need assistance down there. They aren’t fighting these migrant families. They are fighting the cartels who are profiteering off bringing people [and drugs] here.”
The odds of her making those points from the House floor remain long. Republican Cresent Hardy’s triumph in a low-turnout 2014 election was the only recent aberration in a district where Democrats have won by sizable margins, thanks in part to a large minority population. “In a presidential year, it really isn’t realistic. This year, because of Trump, the turnout will be overwhelming,” says Democrat Tick Segerblom, a Clark County commissioner and former Nevada state senator. Election prognosticators rate the seat as “likely Democrat.”
But Sutton presses on, accusing Democratic incumbent Rep. Steven Horsford of being a part-time Nevadan who moved his family to Virginia and “never really moved back.” Meanwhile, as Miss Nevada and as a local business leader, she can tout a decade and more than 500 community events without a political motive. “If you look at the campaign as a company, we’re showing growth, more support, more engagement every single quarter,” Sutton says. Maybe the model-turned-entrepreneur will surprise her way to the halls of Congress. If not, she will have ample star-turning opportunities with conservatives who love telegenic women of color who love them back.