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December 18, 2014

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Brian Sandoval turns his back to Rory Reid’s bark

Front-running Republican will wait to debate eager Democrat

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Chris Morris / Special to the Sun

REID’S MONEY TALKS

Democratic nominee Rory Reid has an impressive war chest amassed for the governor’s race. The most recent campaign finance reports show him with $2.6 million on hand, compared with $575,000 for Republican opponent Brian Sandoval. Reid has begun using that money to purchase television advertisements depicting him as the candidate with an education plan. Sandoval said last week, “This summer I’m focusing on getting out there, getting votes. There’s fundraising I need to do. I’m visiting businesses, visiting schools.”

SANDOVAL’S BIG LEAD

Sandoval has enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls for several months. Typical of candidates with such leads, he has chosen not to engage the underdog opposition so as not to run the risk of making a mistake. Sandoval’s campaign has said there’s no point in debating Reid in July, but Sandoval has responded to some of Reid’s attacks, particularly on the former judge’s education plans, saying Reid’s claim that his plan included layoffs of teachers was “patently false” and that he would instead ask teachers to take a pay cut.
Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Rory Reid

Rory Reid

Voters hoping for a head-to-head debate of the issues in the governor’s race have so far been disappointed.

Instead, Republican Brian Sandoval — with a double-digit lead, according to several recent polls — has been content to maintain a low profile.

Democrat Rory Reid, meanwhile, has attempted to draw Sandoval into a fight — accusing him of ducking debates, issuing news releases saying the former federal judge would lay off teachers and launching a website Tuesday, sandovalfactcheck.com, further criticizing Sandoval’s education plan.

This is textbook campaign strategy: When a candidate is trailing, he attacks and challenges his opponent to engage. When a candidate is leading, he typically avoids debates, reducing the likelihood of a damaging gaffe.

But the situation also reflects another key dynamic in the race for governor. Reid’s eagerness to engage his opponent and Sandoval’s willingness to ignore him are also driven by their bank accounts.

Not only does Reid apparently believe he needs to run an aggressive campaign, his lead in the money race is helping him do it.

The most recent campaign finance reports, released before the June 8 primary, showed Reid’s campaign with $2.6 million on hand and Sandoval’s with $575,000.

Reid’s money is funding television ads in which children declare him the man with an education plan. The ads began airing last week.

Still, Sandoval’s advantage where it counts most — the polls — has diminished the need to respond.

In an interview last week, Sandoval said, “This summer I’m focusing on getting out there, getting votes. There’s fundraising I need to do. I’m visiting businesses, visiting schools.”

Sandoval’s campaign says there will be no debate with Reid until fall. This despite the candidate saying in a primary-night victory speech: “Now there’s no more hiding. We’re going to have a debate about the future of this state.”

A Republican close to Sandoval’s campaign said, “When you’re behind in the polls, it’s a common tactic to challenge your opponent to a debate," adding, “There’s no purpose to debating in July.”

In an interview, Reid made sure to note his opponent’s unwillingness to debate.

“I’ve agreed to a number of debates, in different forums, different formats,” Reid said. “He hasn’t agreed to one.”

The Sandoval campaign, given its lead in the polls — post-primary surveys put it at from 14 to 22 points — may not feel the need to respond to Reid.

But Sandoval appears to recognize that by not engaging his opponent, he runs the risk of allowing Reid to define him to voters with a flood of TV ads and news releases.

For example, when Sandoval released an education plan last week, he emphasized that he would not lay off teachers, an obvious response to Reid’s attacks.

Calling Reid’s claim “patently false,” Sandoval said his plan to address the state’s budget shortfall, released in February, “was meant to prevent teacher layoffs” by asking teachers to take a pay cut.

Because of collective bargaining, the teachers union would have to agree to any pay cut. Reid’s campaign assumed teachers would refuse to renegotiate their contract, and school districts would therefore be forced to eliminate teachers.

Despite Reid’s effort to draw distinctions, both candidates’ education plans assume schools can improve using existing tax revenue and both favor increasing parent and local control.

Some of Reid’s supporters, particularly on the left, have complained that Reid’s attacks have been blunted by his unwillingness to discuss taxes or issue a bolder alternative to Sandoval’s plan.

Reid disagrees.

“I think there’s a distinct difference between Brian Sandoval and me on education,” he said. “I haven’t said from the get-go we should cut. I’m going to reform it and make it more efficient.”

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