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May 26, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Amodei’s ad is outrageous and outrageously effective

When I caught up with Rob Stutzman, the creator of congressional hopeful Mark Amodei’s sensational Red Scare ad, I could tell he thought the joke was on everyone else.

“It’s more or less going the way we planned,” Stutzman said during a phone chat Thursday. Or, perhaps, even better.

The outrage at the spot, which began airing within 48 hours of Amodei being nominated last weekend in Sparks, was utterly predictable. In case you haven’t seen the Chinese troops marching in D.C., the commercial is posted here: amodei4nevada.com.

Some called it racist. Some dubbed it fear-mongering. Some called it xenophobic. One website called Amodei an idiot.

But, I sensed, that noise not only was expected, it was helpful to Amodei’s campaign because the shock value brought attention to a special election Sept. 13 that will be seen (yet again) as a bellwether for 2012. And attention begets money from those energized by the shameless “The Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming” approach — Amodei has more than doubled the $24,000 he raised in the first quarter and his campaign has extended what was a four-day buy into next week.

Incendiary message. Cheaply produced. Short buy.

Mission accomplished.

“It has a lot of utility,” said Stutzman, a longtime California operative who worked for ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators. He quickly checked off the benefits.

First, Stutzman said, “It staked out Mark’s position on the debt ceiling.” Opposition operatives are expert at defining candidates right out of the box, so rather than being pilloried as a Paul Ryan acolyte who wants to destroy Medicare and Social Security, Amodei staked out the anti-debt ceiling territory by dropping this advertising bomb.

Second, Stutzman added, “It increased Mark’s profile and not just in the district.” Indeed, the ad went viral, partly thanks to opponents (an in-kind contribution Amodei gladly accepted). And because of all the attention, Republicans and major donors across the country saw who the GOP nominee was in the Nevada special election to fill Sen. Dean Heller’s House seat. (Of course, the Supreme Court could change all of that as early as next week. But for now …)

“It created momentum and movement behind his candidacy,” Stutzman argued. That is, they knew exactly what they were doing.

And the cheers ring out from Ely to Elko, from Gabbs to Mina. But what of Washoe, where urban voters may feel differently, and where Amodei may be vulnerable?

That remains to be seen and will depend on the effectiveness of Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall’s campaign — she immediately tried to raise money by tapping into the outrage over the ad — and the Democratic machine revving up in Reno-Sparks as it did in 2010 to help Harry Reid win decisively there over Sharron Angle.

Raising the debt ceiling is a difficult issue to talk about in 30 seconds, the kind of nuanced policy that doesn’t lend itself to 30-second ads. Unless, of course, you simply want to draw attention to your candidate and stir up the base.

Amodei’s pollster, John McLaughlin, released a memo soon after the ad started airing this week, showing results that indicate voters are concerned about the massive U.S. debt and about the consequences of raising the ceiling without significant spending cuts.

Of course, if the question was asked another way, the results might be different. To wit: “If you knew that not raising the debt ceiling could put the U.S. in default and threaten the markets, would you support doing so?” A different kind of scare tactic than depicting a Chinese invasion, but certainly closer to the truth — by a lot. No matter.

Stutzman dismissed criticism that the ad is racist — borderline, maybe — but the real issue is whether it is xenophobic fear-mongering, which, of course, it is. And done for effect.

It also appears to be working, as the enhanced TV buy indicates. Amodei is likely to report a much better second-quarter haul next month and he is well-positioned to rake in national money and be remade in the national GOP’s eyes as a temporal hero.

Amodei is the favorite, even if the Supreme Court reverses the lower court decision and allows what Secretary of State Ross Miller had called a “ballot royale.” The ballot is no longer so royale for the Democrats as the only other major GOP candidate still competing is ex-USS Cole Cmdr. Kirk Lippold. I suppose Greg Brower could change his mind (unlikely) or Sharron Angle could stop selling her book long enough to jump back in (oh, what a delicious dream!).

But for now, in a district that is solidly Republican, Amodei is reveling in the attention his ad concocted by Stutzman has brought — no matter what the Chinese, the Asian-Americans, Kate Marshall or anyone else says.

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