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April 18, 2014

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A call from Bruce Woodbury

Bruce Woodbury called me Thursday. I would be honored, except the venerable county commissioner called hundreds of people and said the same thing:

“I’m Bruce Woodbury, and I want to personally thank you for all your kind support over the years. Now I’m supporting Brian Scroggins to take my place on the County Commission. No, he can’t possibly match the millions his wealthy opponent is willing to spend, but I don’t believe a seat on the County Commission should be for sale. The job is just too important. If you agree, then I’m asking you to join me in voting for Brian Scroggins. He’s a good person and won’t let you down. Thanks again. I’m Bruce Woodbury.”

Well, well, well. The most thoughtful, policy-driven, above-the-fray county commissioner in history is doing an auto-dialer for fellow Republican Scroggins, just a few weeks after the state Supreme Court ruled he cannot seek another term.

This is an unmistakable sign, a sign that the usually apolitical Woodbury has decided to jump into the contest to fill his seat with everything he has — his endorsement, his voice and, most important for Scroggins, his fundraising ability. Woodbury has been making phone calls to major donors on Scroggins’ behalf, which already has been helpful.

And Scroggins needs the help.

The “wealthy opponent” Woodbury refers to is Democrat Steve Sisolak, the businessman and higher education regent who immediately dumped $500,000 into the race and recently made a half-million-dollar TV buy. It’s clear Woodbury believes he is a lame duck because Sisolak pulled the political equivalent of a Tonya Harding on him right before he had a chance to sail to a last term.

Woodbury insists Sisolak promised him not to push a challenge and then filed a lawsuit that resulted in his ouster; Sisolak has said Woodbury promised him he would not fight any attempt by the secretary of state to remove him. There are real hard feelings there.

Indeed, even his longtime campaign manager, Kent Oram, who probably didn’t know Brian Scroggins from Brian Krolicki before Woodbury was ousted, has joined the effort to defeat Sisolak. Oram was responsible for conducting a meaningless poll right before the primary intended to show Woodbury could still win, and he leaked the outdated survey weeks later for a different purpose altogether: to help the relatively unknown Scroggins raise money.

Scroggins has some cash to do the call and put out a mail piece that arrived this week. He apparently is “on your side” and can do all kinds of things on the County Commission that no other county commissioner can do, including “fight illegal immigration” and “improve our schools.” He apparently can help with the energy problem, too. Now that’s a poll-tested mail piece.

To be fair, Sisolak also is in the mail, with two recent pieces that insist he is “ready to lead” (where have we heard that one this cycle?) and will open up county government so it has “no hidden agendas” and “better oversight” and “a more business-like approach to government.”

It’s not a race for the commission, folks; it’s a cliche contest.

I expect this positive period of the race to last about as long as it did in the Dina Titus-Jon Porter congressional conflagration. Sisolak and Scroggins have negatives.

Scroggins got into trouble for soliciting money from contractors while on the Contractors Board and Sisolak has been a telemarketer, which is easy to caricature, and a regent, which is even easier to ridicule.

Woodbury’s effect on what could be a close race is difficult to gauge. He is unquestionably popular in the district, although the institution surely is not. Portraying Sisolak as trying to buy the seat is one thing — that’s old school. But claiming the commission seat “is not for sale” — that will be fodder for G-Sting jokes. (What? It’s not? Since when?)

Woodbury’s assistance could be counterbalanced by the potentially partisan nature of a race that is not usually marked by any Democrat-Republican motivation. It’s not just the Democrats’ salivating and the Republicans’ fretting over the possibility of all seven seats being held by Democrats (should Sisolak win and City Councilman Larry Brown take Chip Maxfield’s seat). It’s that the Democratic ground operation, with the presidential and congressional races driving voters, might produce people who vote straight tickets more than usual this year.

The district is closely divided, with Republicans having a 2-percentage-point edge, so Scroggins will need all the help the outgoing commissioner can give him. My guess is Woodbury might be calling me again soon. I just hope he doesn’t ask for money.

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