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July 29, 2015

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Campaign ad may boost Amodei but alienate the Chinese

Amodei campaign ad

Mark Amodei

Mark Amodei

Former state Sen. Mark Amodei’s opening campaign ad appears to have achieved its mission.

The formula: Early campaign timing, plus tiny airtime buy, plus inflammatory images of Chinese troops marching in front of the U.S. Capitol equals huge “earned media” coverage.

“The question always is how do you sucker the news media into giving you coverage that you wouldn’t otherwise get,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a political communications expert at Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “And this is how you do it.”

Amodei’s debut ad in the special election for the 2nd Congressional District features a Chinese newscaster — with heavy accent — narrating imagined world dominance by “our great empire” grown wealthy off American debt.

The ad has grabbed national media attention — not all of it flattering.

“Nevada idiot will stop Chinese army from conquering America,” blared a headline on the media blog Gawker.

Liberal news sites slammed the ad as racist and misguided — China owns just 9.5 percent of U.S. debt, one liberal commentator noted.

(Although it may be a small share, it’s growing and no other single foreign nation approaches China’s share of American debt.)

As Amodei moves into aggressive fundraising mode as the nominee chosen by the Nevada Republican Party last week, the notoriety could bring him needed money.

Indeed, the ad echoes a common refrain at Republican gatherings — that Americans could soon be speaking Chinese if the United States doesn’t address the debt problem.

Amodei’s message on the upcoming decision on the debt ceiling is unequivocal.

“I’ll never vote to raise Obama’s debt limit and risk our independence,” he says in the ad.

Although Amodei uses hyperbole to drive home his opposition to raising the debt ceiling, the ad could have economic repercussions for a state still suffering through the recession.

“There are always the unintended consequences of these things that political consultants don’t anticipate,” Jamieson said. “Locally the ad may be persuasive to most voters and they will write off the part of the population who may find it offensive. But in a viral world these things can be transported instantaneously to a market that might be feeding you tourists.”

That concern is real, said Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who has spent considerable energy developing Nevada’s Chinese tourism market.

Krolicki described the relationship with China as important and delicate. He noted the value of Nevada’s exports to China has grown to $456 million from $13.6 million in the past decade.

“Certainly it raised an eyebrow,” Krolicki said of the ad. “But I take it as a flare glaring over Washington, D.C., and its policies and deficits and not a negative to our Chinese partners.”

One economic development official, who didn’t want to publicly criticize Amodei, said he has been contacted by Chinese consulate officials who were irritated by the ad.

“I think they feel like ‘why do you even have to use us in some kind of pejorative way to make a message,’” the official said. “This ad makes you have to go through the calculation of ‘are we being racist or beating up on the horrible financial decisions made in Washington D.C.?’

“The fact is China is a very important trade partner for Nevada and this stuff isn’t helpful.”

Amodei denied his ad will have any effect on Nevada’s trade relations with China.

“Yes, it’s meant to get attention, but there is absolutely nothing in there that criticizes the Chinese trade policies, that criticizes them for buying the debt,” Amodei said. “They hold well over $1 trillion of it and if you think that’s a good thing, then you know what? I’m not your guy.”

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