Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008 | 2 a.m.
State Sen. Dina Titus has spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars telling voters Rep. Jon Porter has supported policies that have been harmful to Southern Nevada.
Porter, the Republican incumbent in the 3rd Congressional District, has spent his time and money telling voters Titus is a bad person, never mind her policies.
Personal attacks often have more sway with voters than policy arguments, and this has some Democrats growing skittish over whether they can finally defeat Porter after three terms in office.
“I’m getting a bad feeling about this,” a Democratic insider said.
State Sen. Bob Coffin, a friend and colleague of Titus, said he wants to see the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other outside groups get tougher on Porter, and more personal.
“If it was me, I’d have been hammering Jon in ways they haven’t done,” Coffin said. He emphasized, though, that he thinks the Titus campaign itself should be using mostly positive spots about Titus’ accomplishments as a legislator.
Hugh Jackson, a widely read liberal blogger, called the Titus campaign “cookie cutter” and lamented Titus’ decision not to make an issue of “Porter the self-serving opportunist making an (expletive) out of himself as an embarrassing middle-aged hepcat wannabe in his ridiculous band,” referring to the congressman’s moonlighting career as a keyboardist in his garage act, “The Second Amendments.”
Anecdotal evidence, as well as private and public polling, suggests any advantage Titus held a few months ago has disappeared. Porter has successfully driven up her “unfavorables” by claiming — falsely — that she was “caught double dipping,” taking a salary as both a legislator and UNLV professor.
The ads say Titus will raise taxes to pay for her “shady schemes,” which the ads never describes. The ads also focus on a Titus vote during her first session in 1989 to increase her legislative pension; she also voted to repeal the increase soon after, though that goes unmentioned.
Titus is hindered by a financial disadvantage. In recent weeks, as the list of Republican incumbents in tough races who have any chance of winning has dwindled, the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as outside conservative groups such as Freedom’s Watch, have responded by putting all of their money in just a few races, including Porter’s. The NRCC bought $447,000 in ad time for the election’s remaining 10 days, for instance.
Titus is not without advantages of her own. The district is now home to 30,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, and in early voting Democrats have outnumbered GOP voters by a staggering 51 percent to 33 percent, backed by a wave of voters eager to cast ballots for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president.
Andrew Stoddard, Titus’ spokesman, said the campaign has no plans to take a more personal or sharply negative tone.
“Nevadans are facing tough challenges, and we think Nevadans want to hear about how Dina Titus will make things better for voters here in the 3rd District,” Stoddard said.
Though conceding the attacks on Titus may have moved some voters, a Democrat close to the campaign who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak, disagreed strongly with any strategy of personal attacks.
“It’s absurd,” he said. Voters are so focused on the economy that personal attacks can backfire, he said. He cited the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, whose attacks on Obama have some voters thinking — according to polling — McCain’s focus isn’t on the country’s economic distress, where it should be.
Presumably the campaign and its allies have access to polling indicating their strategy is right.
Still, the Titus campaign has pushed back some, with a new ad saying Porter is “lying,” referring to a bevy of fact-checking, including in the Sun, that has concluded his ads are untruthful. (Porter smartly seemed to preempt this Titus counterattack by holding up a Sun story in Thursday night’s televised debate and pointing to a Titus ad that included some information that was misleading.)
The Titus campaign is also charging Porter with hypocrisy for criticizing Titus’ pension vote, noting that Porter voted to increase his salary while on the Boulder City Council in 1984.
Porter has also hit Titus for being late on a few property tax bills of the 100 or so she’s paid since moving here in 1977.
The Titus campaign points out that Porter was late filing federal tax returns until he received a final notice from the IRS informing him that if he did not pay his taxes for 1985, it would begin proceedings to impose a tax lien on his assets.
Porter spokesman Matt Leffingwell said Titus’ claims show that she “is getting desperate in the final hours of the campaign. She is ashamed of her record in Carson City and is unable to convince 36,000 new Democrat voters that she is not anything but a self-serving politician that Nevada taxpayers cannot afford.”