Monday, Sept. 29, 2008 | 2 a.m.
For politicians in tight races, hitting the hustings as Election Day approaches — canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors — can be the difference between a narrow victory and a heartbreaking loss.
Saturday morning, the candidates for state Senate District 6, GOP Sen. Bob Beers and Democrat Allison Copening, took nothing for granted as they hustled for votes door-to-door in the early autumn heat.
Beers, a veteran lawmaker who has served in the state Senate and Assembly and is a former candidate for governor, is facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from Copening, a relative political novice.
Beers’ internal tracking numbers have him up by 5 to 6 points, he said. But a Democratic party-affiliated poll released last week of 400 voters in the district, which includes parts of Summerlin and Sun City, shows Beers ahead by just one point.
Tough economic times and a Democratic presidential candidate who has aroused excitement among voters — factors that have Republicans fighting this campaign season for votes they once owned — have likely helped make the Senate District 6 race tight.
It also could be because Democrats now have a 926-voter registration edge over Republicans in the district, according to recent Clark County Election Department numbers.
Copening, president of the board of a nonprofit organization and a former marketing executive, said she’s closed the gap because she and her supporters have knocked on every door in the district at least once. Since June, she said, she’s been campaigning full-time — often working 16-hour days.
“This is the best way for me to connect with the voters,” said Copening, who was joined by three supporters in canvassing a residential neighborhood north of the Durango Hills Golf Club. “It’s the most important way for voters to hear what I stand for, what I’d like to do in the Legislature.”
Another four supporters were canvassing for Copening nearby, she said.
Beers — who opposes bigger government in nearly all its forms, from higher taxes to motorcycle helmet laws — blames the close race on a “smear campaign” by Democrats.
Aiming to gain a majority in the state Senate, the Democrats have attacked Beers on several fronts, including for taking a campaign contribution two years ago from a pornographer. Beers has told the Sun that the donation came in the mail and he didn’t know the donor.
Beers has slammed Copening for intentionally ducking several debates with him. In fact, she has acknowledged declining six debate invitations, though the two candidates have debated once and are scheduled to meet again for a debate in mid-October on KLVX-TV, Channel 10.
Several political bloggers and pundits who attended the August debate concluded Beers won, demonstrating a superior grasp of the issues.
“It’s a shame that voters are being denied a chance to shop for their candidates,” and to see how they handle themselves in a debate, Beers said. “Voters have a right to know.”
Beers’ morning started at 8:30 at his Summerlin home, for his weekly Saturday morning “Super Walk.” About 35 mostly older supporters, clad in bright blue “Bob Beers” T-shirts, gathered for breakfast and a brief pitch by Beers before heading out in smaller groups to different neighborhoods to talk to voters and distribute campaign literature.
Canvassers stocked up on glossy brochures with pictures of Beers and his family and Red Rock canyon.
Dave Freeman, a long-time Beers supporter, said that as a retired 31-year Metro police officer, he has an idea when someone is feeding him a load of bunk — whether that person is a criminal suspect or a politician.
“I’m a good judge of character,” said Freeman, 65. “I know when people are lying to me. He hasn’t lied to me.”
After breakfast, Beers hit the Big Horn neighborhood, near Grand Canyon Drive and Cheyenne Avenue. He found some self-proclaimed supporters who seemed happy to see him, as well as a few skeptics.
When given the chance, Beers told the voters of his resistance to higher taxes, and of his bill to demand that off-site school administrators teach a class or two per school year.
“We’ll see,” one elderly woman said through a forced smile and partially opened door before quickly retreating inside.
A man was more welcoming. “You’ll have my and my wife’s support,” he told Beers. “No problem at all.”
About 1 1/2 miles away, Copening had similar mixed luck. She sometimes engaged in long conversations with those inclined to talk to her.
She described herself to voters as a moderate Democrat. “I’m not an advocate of taxation in this climate,” she told one voter.
Copening told several voters she is a big proponent of a Nevada state lottery — an idea that’s been shot down by the Legislature a couple of dozen times since the 1970s and is strongly opposed by the gaming industry.
“I don’t like the lottery. There’s no evidence it makes a difference,” said Gloria Zangel, a Democrat, who along with her husband Bob, a Republican, spoke with Copening for at least 15 minutes.
Copening responded that a lottery in Nevada could be run efficiently, pumping much-needed money into the state’s schools without raising taxes. “We have children without textbooks, teachers who aren’t getting paid enough,” she said.
Later, Copening defended her decision to limit the number of debates with Beers. Her team made a “strategic decision” to engage voters more directly by knocking on doors, she said, as opposed to taking the time to prepare for often sparsely attended debates.
“I love to hear what the voters are thinking,” she said. “This is the way for me.”