Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Nevada Democrats are engaged in some funny business, intervening in the Republican primary for governor. From the Reno Gazette-Journal:
A Democratic operative has launched a campaign to defeat former federal judge Brian Sandoval in the Republican primary for governor, hoping to propel a weaker candidate, such as the incumbent governor, into the general election to face Democrat Rory Reid.
The Committee to Protect Nevada Jobs, created by former Reid campaign manager Dan Hart, begins airing its first television ad today.
The ad features a constitutional amendment sponsored in 1994 by Gov. Jim Gibbons, then an assemblyman from Reno, to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes. The ad takes aim at Sandoval, who as attorney general helped then-Gov. Kenny Guinn take the 2003 Legislature to the Nevada Supreme Court to break a stalemate on the budget and an $800 million tax increase.
You can see the ad here.
There's no mystery as to why Democrats would want Gibbons to beat Sandoval in the Republican primary. Sandoval is popular. Gibbons isn't. Rory Reid has a much better chance to beat Gibbons than Sandoval.
There's a little bit of a mystery, however, as to why Democrats feel the need to involve themselves in the Republican primary. While these sorts of interventions sometimes work (the 2002 California Republican primary for governor is a classic example), they're risky.
This ad has prompted tons of stories that say, in effect, Democrats want Sandoval to lose the primary because he's such a strong general election candidate. If you're a Republican and you read one of those stories, you'd probably be more likely to vote for Sandoval. In the Internet age, it's hard to get away with moves like this one, which arguably is a dirty trick.
Democrats would be much better off if Gibbons were making this charge against Sandoval and they could stay on the sidelines. And, Gibbons will make this case (he already has obliquely). Gibbons has prided himself on his fiscal conservatism. While the 2003 tax situation was complicated, the controversy is perhaps Sandoval's biggest liability with conservatives.
The problem for Gibbons and for Democrats is that Gibbons doesn't have any money. At the beginning of the year, he only had $35,000 in campaign cash. $35,000! Sandoval had an even million at the time. There's no way the governor can fund decent attack ads with that money. He can't fund much of anything.
While unpaid media (the old-fashioned practice of reporters interviewing candidates for office) can help, Democrats clearly didn't trust that Gibbons could get the message out on his own. Their best chance to beat Sandoval is in the primary, so, despite the risks, their money is probably best spent now. Still, I can't help but wonder whether they wouldn't have been better off by just cutting some checks to Gibbons directly.
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