Las Vegas Sun

September 20, 2014

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Politics:

Nevada Republicans bank on voters having short memories

The congressional standoff that shut down the government and brought the country to the brink of defaulting on its debt may not have produced any winners, but polls, pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle agree that the biggest political losers are Republican lawmakers.

Yet, in Nevada, Republicans are betting that in a year’s time, the political hit they took in October 2013 won’t matter much at all.

“Okay, you (Democrats) shouted louder and you messaged better,” Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., told the Sun this week. “But in terms of drawing any long-term conclusions? We can quit talking about what a bunch of meanies the Republicans are. ... Past this weekend’s cycle, it’ll be OK.”

Amodei, along with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against a compromise measure to restore the federal budget and raise the debt ceiling through early 2014. The bill passed with the support of the rest of the Nevada delegation, including Republican Rep. Joe Heck.

It is with a collective shrug that most Republicans are greeting the plummeting poll numbers, vitriolic campaign messages and general complaints about their party's unwillingness to make a deal.

“People have short memories, especially when it comes to politics,” said Bob List, former governor of Nevada and current Republican strategist. “Life’s going to to go on. ... It’s hard for me to understand exactly why Republicans are taking the heat.”

“Victory is fleeting in the world of politics,” Nevada Republican strategist Sig Rogich said. “I don’t think it’s one of those issues that transcends into the 2014 election — it’s a long way off.”

Rogich isn’t one of those Republicans who can’t bring himself to criticize his own party. In fact, the former head of the 2010 cycle’s “Republicans for Reid” thinks the GOP completely “mishandled” the crisis by “trying to be so hard-edged.” He also has no love lost for the Tea Party, some of whom “are orangutans, for different reasons,” he said.

But Rogich, like many Republicans, questions whether the fallout from the government shutdown was really as bad as Democrats make it out to be.

“If the government is up and running, people are not going to look back and think, ‘We were inconvenienced.’ And how many people were really inconvenienced? It never got to that point,” Rogich said. “If anything, people become a little immune to it because they reached the edge of the canyon, or the cliff, didn’t fall off, and things moved back to normal again.”

That of course, is not the message Democrats are presenting to the American public.

For weeks, Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama, have pointed to the hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers, veterans unable to get their claims processed, children turned away from national cancer tests, and tourism industries hamstrung by the closure of national parks.

The country also neared the brink of default as Republicans insisted that any arrangement to restore funding and borrowing authority include a measure to defund, or at least delay, key portions of Obamacare.

“A lot of Republicans acted in the way they were elected to act in these situations: Oppose Obamacare at all costs,” Nevada Republican strategist Robert Uithoven said.

Nonetheless, those Republicans put others in what could be a lastingly awkward position.

“The whole idea of a strategy to get Senate Dems to go along with opposing it seemed farfetched from the beginning,” Uithoven said. “People in more competitive districts probably didn’t enjoy the strategy.”

The division between Nevada’s top Republicans over the budget bill was stark: On one side, Heller and Amodei were unapologetic in voting against the compromise.

Amodei represents a safely Republican district; Heller is not up for re-election until 2018.

On the other side are Gov. Brian Sandoval, who came out against the standoff early and forcefully, and Rep. Joe Heck, who touted the Republican Party line until the last minute, when he voted for the compromise. His prepared comments after suggested his heart had never been fully in the dragged-out fight.

“As I have stated all along, the health care law must be repealed, repaired and replaced because of the burdens it places on individuals, families and businesses, but not at the expense of a prolonged government shutdown,” Heck said in a statement.

Sandoval and Heck are both up for re-election in 2014, meaning they will have the most work to do fending off Democratic attacks on the issue.

“Congressman Joe Heck has returned to his district claiming he was just an innocent bystander to this crime against his local economy from this government shutdown,” said Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “In reality, he stood by for 16 days and refused on 16 separate occasions to work with Democrats to end it.”

But Republicans question whether Heck will really have to take the heat that comes from his association with the greater GOP — something he can’t fully control.

“I think no Nevadan wanted this to end more than Joe Heck,” Uithoven said.

Heck declined a request to comment for this story but commented earlier on his thinking during the shutdown. He explained to the Sun that by the nature of his district, 50 percent of his constituents were likely going to find fault in his actions at all times, freeing him “to concentrate on what I think is best.”

“He has never hidden his positions from people, and those positions have never prevented him from doing the work he was elected to do,” his spokesman, Greg Lemon, said Thursday. “He has been very forthcoming with folks about where he stands and why he voted a certain way.”

Democrats are clearly ignoring any potential for nuance and preparing to cast the GOP as one recalcitrant lot as they kick into full 2014 campaign mode.

“Nevadans saw firsthand during the Republican shutdown that there are no lengths Dean Heller and Joe Heck will not go to in their attempt to take away access to affordable health care,” Nevada Democrats’ spokesman Zach Hudson wrote in a statement. “Dean Heller and Joe Heck own this shutdown, pure and simple.”

That could complicate the messaging for Heck.

“His town meetings and campaign events may have become more difficult,” Uithoven said. “He’s going to have to work harder in his campaign because of this — not through any fault of his own but to avoid any national trend.”

But for the rest of the Nevada GOP, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to change much of anything.

“The reason we are where we are today is because Democrats looked at a poll and said, ‘This is what’s best for the Democratic Party,’” Heller said. “Not for the American people.”

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