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September 20, 2014

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Majority a magnet for money

Parties up the ante in battle to control the Legislature

Democrats and their allies in the labor movement have taken the unusual step of buying at least $500,000 in TV advertising in an attempt to win two closely contested state Senate races, according to sources with knowledge of the advertising buy.

Click to enlarge photo

The Democrats' approach, including mail pieces and $500,000 in TV advertising, caught Republicans by surprise. The GOP has responded with its own mail pieces, including this one against Allison Copening, Beers' Democratic opponent.

The groups, which include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, have targeted two vulnerable Republican incumbents, state Sen. Bob Beers in Summerlin’s Senate District 6 and state Sen. Joe Heck in Henderson’s Senate District 5.

Republican-leaning groups have responded with their own tough mail pieces, including one attacking Beers’ opponent, Allison Copening, that features the visage of a red-eyed rat.

A Democratic victory in either district would give the party control of the Senate, where Republicans currently hold an 11-10 majority. Democrats control the Assembly.

The latest developments draw into sharp relief the stakes in the intense fight for the Senate. Following the 2010 census, Nevada is expected to gain a new seat in the House of Representatives. Control of the state Senate would allow Democrats to draw the boundaries of the House seat to ensure it goes to a Democrat.

Also, Beers and Heck have ambitions beyond the state Senate and are widely viewed as key members of the Republican bench. Democrats would like to send them back to the private sector before they have a chance to run for higher office.

The TV ads continue the Democrats’ sharply negative campaign against Heck and Beers and continue to leave out any mention of their Democratic challengers. Copening, a marketing executive, is taking on Beers, and retired Clark County School District administrator Shirley Breeden is challenging Heck.

Much of the money pouring into the races on both sides is coming from independent groups unaffiliated with the candidates.

Robert Uithoven, a GOP campaign consultant working for both Heck and Beers, said he hadn’t seen the anti-Beers and anti-Heck TV spots, but wasn’t surprised they attacked the Republicans without mentioning Copening or Breeden. It fits a pattern, Uithoven said.

“The unions and Democratic Party leaders know they’ve failed miserably in trying to prop up their candidates in these races,” he said. “So they’ve resorted to smear campaigns.”

The unions, Uithoven said, were, in effect, trying to buy the Senate. A $500,000 investment is “pretty inexpensive” if it results in the state Legislature’s becoming much more responsive to their issues, including raising taxes.

With 15 state Senate districts in the Clark County media market, TV advertising could best be described as a less-than-precise approach to reaching voters.

But Democrats say it’s necessary because voters are being deluged with campaign information in the mail.

“We have been in the mailbox a long time,” said a Democratic operative involved in the effort, referring to the negative mail pieces that have hit mailboxes almost daily in both districts.

The mail pieces, some misleading, have accused Heck, a physician, of not caring about women’s health, while saying Beers consorts with pornographers because he once took a campaign donation from the owner of an adult business.

The Democratic operative said the campaign had no choice but to add TV to the portfolio. “Some people have stopped opening election mail,” the operative said.

The Democrats’ expensive move to TV highlights the party’s money advantage in an election year widely expected to sweep Republicans out of power across the country.

Republicans knew they were in for a fight to retain control of the state Senate, but have been caught somewhat off guard by the intensity and ferocity of the Democratic effort.

They shouldn’t be surprised, however, given the stakes. With control of the Democratic Assembly in hand, a victory in the state Senate would mean a Democratic Legislature negotiating from a position of strength. It could force Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons into difficult vetoes on education, health care, worker safety and other issues.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is a somewhat surprising donor to the Democrats’ TV effort. It has almost no presence in Nevada because the state doesn’t allow collective bargaining for state employees. But the union likely thinks Democratic control of the Legislature could make collective bargaining a possibility.

The union may also be doing a favor for its ally in Washington, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Heck is seen as a potential challenger to Reid in 2010, and Heck and Beers are both mentioned as Republican candidates for governor. Reid’s son Rory Reid, chairman of the Clark County Commission, is often mentioned as a Democratic candidate for governor in 2010.

Republicans and their allies have responded with a tough mail campaign of their own.

A group called the Committee to Improve Nevada’s Economy and Education System has put out a mail piece, “King Rat,” that features the image of a rat’s face. The mailer says that as public affairs director of Pulte Homes/Del Webb, Copening was indifferent to the plight of Anthem homeowners whose properties were infested with rats.

“Copening’s callous response was that residents should accept rats as part of nature. Imagine how she would respond to YOUR concerns if she is elected to the Nevada Senate.”

The mailer referred to a 2004 Las Vegas Mercury article in which Copening said animals such as rats live in the desert and that bulldozing before construction displaced some of them. But she also noted in the article that Del Webb had hired exterminators and landscape architects to address the problem.

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