(Fred Weinberg/The Penny Press) – The other day, on one of those Sunday local talking head shows in Reno, a political science professor, Fred Lokken, from Truckee Meadows Community College told the host that he “feared” the 2012 battle for retiring Senator John Ensign’s seat would attract so much money that the campaign would degenerate into a negative campaign.
What’s to fear?
Nevada’s voters are not some amorphous group of people that marches randomly to the polls and can be influenced by nasty radio and TV ads.
In fact, the evidence is that Nevada voters tend to pick and choose based on what they perceive to be the facts. And they tend to be a whole lot smarter than the pundits want to give them credit for being.
Run a pair of lightweights and you will get, I promise you, an intensely negative campaign. Negative campaigning occurs mostly when the choices are not particularly good. Picking the lesser of two evils begets nasty advertising.
In the 2010 race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, Reid—who for most of the campaign polled as a vulnerable underdog—literally used as his strategy that he may be pond scum but she was even worse. And he was able to sell it.
Because the general perception of the voting public was that neither party put its best candidate forward.
My guess is that if Sue Lowden were running against Ross Miller, the nature of the campaign would be very different because neither could be considered a lightweight. Still, nobody was going to challenge Reid, and Lowden lost her primary to Angle’s grassroots effort.
There are two ways to end up in the 2010 scenario.
One is to nominate two genuine lightweights. The Republicans have a bad habit of nominating people who can make the case that it is their turn, irrespective of actual merit. The Democrats in Nevada have a similar problem, except that they additionally have to kowtow to the Clark County unions and, as a result, they get left wingnuts more often than not—people such as Dina Titus or Barbara Buckly, who never met a tax they didn’t like.
The second is to nominate one lightweight who will try to bring the other candidate down to his or her level. Contrary to the mainstream media’s take on the 2010 Senatorial election, that is exactly what Reid did to Angle. She may not have been the best candidate, but he spent millions demonizing her and the public was so disgusted by the process, the union votes were able to decide the race.
If the voters want to avoid that, they need to a) vote in the primary election; and, b) select a candidate who won’t disgust them by the night before the general election.
Here something to look for:
What did they do five or ten years ago?
In the case of presumptive GOP frontrunner Dean Heller, when he was Secretary of State, he did every single thing he could think of to stop anti-tax initiative petitions from getting on the ballot. And he was, as Nevada’s chief election officer, successful.
In the case of presumptive Democrat frontrunner Shelly Berkley, she was once an advisor to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and told him in writing that he needed to make contributions to local judges. The memo she wrote to Adelson on Sept. 24, 1996, speaks for itself. She follows up a recitation about how some judges had been, among other things, “instrumental in dismissing tickets” for Sands employees by declaring: “Judges, like all candidates, rely on campaign contributions. Since they are also human, they tend to help those (who) have helped them. If we want to be able to continue contacting the judges when we need to, I strongly urge that we donate to the judges I recommended.” So give to a judge and, as she puts it on a tape of a phone call, “instead of a $ 500 fine, you pay a $ 20 fine.”
There is a difference between being popular and being a suitable candidate. Ask Ensign who gets to see his name in the state’s largest newspaper as “Disgraced Senator John Ensign”.
I wouldn’t “fear” a negative campaign. I would “fear” another lightweight Senator.