Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

Less than shining moments

The race to replace Dean Heller in Congress has come down to the lesser of two lessers.

After moderating an hourlong debate this week and witnessing the nonsense emanating from the campaigns as the election draws nigh, I can honestly say this is one of the more embarrassing spectacles in Nevada campaign history. After 25 years (ritualistic “I’m a grizzled veteran” reference) of covering politics, I have a high tolerance for campaign silliness. But the Mark Amodei-Kate Marshall contest has set new standards of inanity.

If it’s not ex-GOP state Sen. Amodei showing Paul Ryan that love means never having to say he’d vote for your plan, or Democratic state Treasurer Marshall acting as if she is Nevada’s supreme ruler, it’s their mendacious television ads in an effort to blacken each other and their mindless Medicare gyrations designed to fool seniors into voting against the other one.

Amodei hiding behind his mom to inoculate against Marshall’s boilerplate Medicare attacks, while tactically deft, is only matched by the treasurer claiming that the 2003 tax increase caused the current recession, as incredible a claim as has ever been made in a major Nevada campaign.

How stupid do they think voters are — the few paying attention, that is? Oh, quite stupid.

These are two intelligent human beings reduced by relentless ambition, national pressure and pure shamelessness into postures that would break their backs, if either showed any sign of being a vertebrate. Amodei’s willingness to pretend he would have voted against Ryan’s budget after weeks of gushing about the plan is as credible as Marshall’s serial attempts to pretend that her party affiliation is not what it is.

Some examples from the “Face to Face” debate show just how cartoonish the colloquy has been:

• The candidates, during a rare exchange on foreign policy in a campaign dominated by domestic distortions, showed little knowledge of the momentous events in Libya. Amodei continued to insist the president violated the War Powers Act and offered a post-Gadhafi solution of setting up an American Embassy and seeing what happens. Marshall was even lighter, talking about the president’s “indecisiveness” being responsible for “many more lives being killed” and asserting, “The president didn’t violate the War Powers Act because the president ended up working with our allies,” which, of course, has nothing to do with the resolution mandating the commander-in-chief consult with Congress before going to war.

Anyone know a good tutor?

• In between the obnoxious talking points war of “the Ryan budget” vs. “Obamacare” the candidates showed just how eager they are to make sure they leave no senior behind Sept. 13. Marshall prattled on about how she could negotiate prescription drug rates just as she had done with contracts in the treasurer’s office — there’s an apt analogy — but refused to say she would slow the increase in Medicare spending, which everyone knows must happen.

Bold, eh?

As for Amodei, after calling Ryan’s plan “excellent,” offering up he “likes a lot of what he has to say about Medicare” and claiming he wants to “cozy up” to the Wisconsin congressman, the GOP nominee initially denied a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “I didn’t say I would have voted against the Ryan plan.” Then, moments later, he came clean: “Yeah, I would have voted against it.”

What?

• On the 2003 tax increase, which Amodei supported, Marshall claimed the minuscule payroll tax helped debilitate the Nevada economy and said she would have voted against the $830 million package. The latter assertion asks the kind of suspension of disbelief Steven Spielberg wouldn’t dare attempt — every Democrat voted for that increase. Marshall couldn’t say what she would cut and said she would have proposed “a different plan.”

Kate Marshall, phone home.

For his part, Amodei, who has now signed the “I’ll never raise taxes even if my Mom does a TV ad telling me to” pledge from Grover Norquist, acknowledged he voted for what was then the largest tax increase in history. But while he said he is “a solutions guy” and defended funding education, he later said of his own tax proposal — which had a sales tax on services similar to one legislative Democrats proposed a few months ago — that it was a “way to increase your budget without hurting business.”

Did you hear that one, Grover?

There was much more — you can see it here.

But you get the point, which is that it is almost pointless to try to elicit substance from either candidate.

A couple of robopolls, one showing Amodei up 13, another a dead heat, are of little utility in gauging where this race really is. I wonder how many voters in the 2nd Congressional District, a few days from early voting, are saying of choosing between the lesser of two lessers:

I couldn’t care less.

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