Friday, April 25, 2008 | 2 a.m.
- Allison Copening, the Democratic candidate for State Senate, District 6, on taxes.
- Copening on her opponate, State Sen. Bob Beers.
Allison Copening is in some ways a dream candidate to take on Republican stalwart Bob Beers in the pivotal race to decide the future of the state Senate, which Republicans control by one vote.
She’s president of the board of a nonprofit organization and trustee of another. She’s been a marketing executive for a homebuilder and a TV station, and she’s run her own business.
She tells a compelling personal narrative, having survived cancer and experienced the loss of her brother to the disease.
She eschews ideology and talks convincingly about building consensus in Carson City. She’s universally described as “nice.”
Copening is a 43-year-old self-described moderate Democrat who will launch her campaign at a Saturday event. She is the perfect contrast for residents of the Summerlin-area district who may suffer fatigue from the incumbent Beers, a pugnacious media hound and libertarian ideologue whose agenda is simple: less government, more Beers.
But in a long interview, Copening’s weaknesses demonstrate this is still Beers’ race to lose. Though her candor is refreshing, her frank admissions of policy ignorance won’t win voter confidence. Her sense of honor and unwillingness to roll around in the mud, while admirable, show a certain naivete about what will be required to take down Beers. And though she has fundraising potential — hundreds of thousands of dollars will be required — from her network of friends and acquaintances, she has yet to bring in much money.
Copening’s agenda so far is this nonspecific boilerplate: “Well, the issues that we’re facing are many and varied, and I think that as a legislator I want to get in there, work together to identify what these most critical issues are and work across party lines to try to resolve some of these.”
When she was asked about the most pressing issue facing the state — a budget deficit caused by the sluggish economy, leading to a need for vast budget cuts — her advice was to cut the least essential programs first. Hardly insightful advice for budget writers faced with no easy choices.
“As I continue in my campaigning I’ll be able to address these issues in more detail. There’s more research I need to do. The bottom line is there’s no easy issues,” she said.
“My goal in coming months is to understand issues inside and out,” Copening said. “The first thing I want people to know is me.”
Copening said her experience in business, specifically running her own, makes her reluctant to favor a tax increase, though she made no pledge either way.
Although she said voters would learn why Beers is the wrong choice this year, she declined repeated entreaties during the interview to draw distinctions between herself and Beers, though she did criticize his proposal to arm teachers with guns.
Although Copening declined the offer to hit Beers, opponents have started attacking her. An anonymous Web site says, “Like her mentor, Dina Titus, Allison Copening is an attractive blonde who believes passionately that Nevada needs higher taxes,” referring to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus.
(Beers said he has no idea who’s behind it but is trying to find out and get it taken down.)
As Titus noted, Democrats will provide a stable of surrogates and a well-funded effort independent of Copening’s campaign to hammer Beers for his Wild West stylings, which tend toward guns for all and programs for few.
Asked how much money she’s raised, Copening said, “I have raised not a heck of a lot right yet.”
Democrats say the district will be flooded with money and volunteers working on the presidential campaign and the competitive race in the 3rd Congressional District, where Democrat Robert Daskas hopes to unseat incumbent Rep. Jon Porter.
The district, Senate District 6, is in the midst of considerable change, with Democrats now outnumbering Republicans by more than 400 and counting every day. Boding poorly for Beers: In this district, Titus outpolled Jim Gibbons in the 2006 governor’s race.
Moreover, state Senate districts are small enough that a candidate with a sterling resume, a wide network of friends and a charming personal demeanor can win over voters in the absence of a well-formulated agenda, lots of money or keen political skills.
To a large degree, at least in the early going, that’s what Copening is banking on: voters who come to like her. If her impeccable character references are any guide, she may be successful on this score.
“She’s phenomenal,” said Dr. Stephanie Holland, a founder of Child Focus, a nonprofit group for foster children. Copening is president of the Child Focus board. “I would describe her as committed and compassionate. There’s nothing she says she’s going to do that she doesn’t do. She balances a bunch of things at the same time, and she’s committed to kids and the child welfare system,” Holland said.
Lori Nelson, a spokeswoman for Station Casinos and a friend of Copening’s, said she was most struck by Copening’s response when diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.
“She had an unbelievable attitude. She didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her. She was never a martyr. Never wanted pity,” Nelson said. “She wanted to fight it.”
Beers must know he’s in for a tough race. As Copening considered a run, he called her during the dinner hour one Friday night to try to dissuade her. Beers said he did so out of concern for her, that she was being lured into a race she would undoubtedly lose.
No surprise that Beers would respond with a clever — if wildly disingenuous — explanation like this.
This is what Copening will face from now until November.