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August 1, 2015

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POLITICAL MEMO:

National GOP tries to seize control of Medicare debate

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Nevada Republicans, from left, Mark Amodei, Kirk Lippold and Greg Brower debate Wednesday, June 15, 2011, in Reno, Nev. Amodei is now a congressman and represents Nevada's 2nd District, which includes Reno.

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Kate Marshall

The Republicans really don’t want to lose again.

It’s not just about halting their special election losing streak, which has seen them go down to defeat in what should have been safe Republican districts.

They are waging a message battle to gain the upper hand in the debate over who is out to destroy and who is out to save Medicare.

Nevada’s special election in the 2nd Congressional District is a front in both of these battles.

As the race enters its final weeks, the National Republican Congressional Committee has flooded Nevada airwaves with television ads attacking Democrat Kate Marshall.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has offered tactical advice to Marshall, but hasn’t spent money on television ads against her Republican opponent, Mark Amodei.

Democrats spin this imbalance as desperation on the part of national Republicans, who are compensating for Amodei’s lackluster fundraising.

Marshall, on the other hand, is well funded, allowing her to air a steady stream of attack ads against Amodei.

But although it’s unusual for national Republicans to spend heavily on what is supposed to be a safe seat, it isn’t exactly a desperate act. National Republicans are seeking to fix a mistake they made this spring in the special election for New York’s 26th Congressional District, where they essentially ceded the message on Medicare to the Democratic candidate.

In that race, Democrat Kathy Hochul went up early and hard against her Republican opponent, accusing her of seeking to kill Medicare because she supported Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. It took weeks for Republican Jane Corwin to respond.

When Hochul won the heavily GOP district, the Republicans-want-to-kill-Medicare message quickly became a national strategy, and Democrats posited that by using it they could take back the House.

Marshall has followed that playbook, focusing two of her three attack ads on Amodei’s evolving position on Ryan’s plan to revamp Medicare.

But neither national Republicans nor Amodei are letting the attacks go unchallenged. An Amodei TV ad features his mother and accuses Marshall of lying about his record.

“I will work to support and improve the program,” Amodei promises in the ad.

“You’d better, Mark, I’m counting on you,” his mother says.

“OK, Ma, I’ll do my best.”

In addition to pushing the national momentum on Medicare, Marshall’s campaign thinks Amodei is vulnerable on the issue. The district is home to many seniors.

Early in the campaign, Amodei called Ryan’s proposal a good starting point. When he was working to get the Republican central committee’s nomination, he said he would “cozy up” to Ryan to get his plan passed.

Most recently, he said he wouldn’t support Ryan’s plan because it would hurt rural Nevadans’ access to health care.

“He’s not backing away for what he said,” his spokesman Peter DeMarco said. “It’s a good first start and has the elements to lead a thoughtful discussion. But if the threshold question is ‘does he support Paul Ryan’s budget in its current form,’ no.”

Meanwhile, Amodei and national Republicans are working to shift the debate, bringing up the $500 billion in cuts to Medicare in last year’s health care bill and recycling past GOP arguments against that bill, including that it will put the government in charge of health care decisions.

In the up-is-down world of political messaging, Republicans who call for entitlement spending cuts use such a cut as a weapon against their Democratic opponent. And both sides rely on dubious arguments.

Ryan’s plan would completely change how Medicare is funded, double costs for seniors and cut the same $500 billion that Democrats did. But it wouldn’t end it.

The Democrats’ health care bill cut $500 billion from Medicare, which they claim wouldn’t affect beneficiaries. And although the bill creates a panel to oversee cuts to Medicare, they wouldn’t dictate coverage.

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