Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2017

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Jousting with shadows

I can still recall Sen. Harry Reid’s frustration 10 years ago as it boiled over at a Sun City debate with his upstart challenger.

After then-Rep. John Ensign explained why he believed a campaign finance reform bill was unconstitutional, Reid could not contain himself, declaring his foe was “a vet who also worked in casinos (and) he shouldn’t be interpreting the Constitution.” It encapsulated Reid’s attitude about a race he would later win by 400 votes — shock and disdain that the callow stripling would dare to challenge the incipient Senate leader.

I am reminded of Reid’s rising anger just over a week before early voting begins as I sense the same kind of frustration — perhaps turning into desperation in the inevitable alchemy of campaigns — from state Sens. Joe Heck and Bob Beers. Neither Republican, each considered a potential statewide officeholder, can seem to fathom that he may lose his elected title to a candidate he considers decidedly inferior.

And the major difference a decade later is that Reid had to confront a natural campaigner in Ensign, but Heck and Beers are jousting at shadows. Their opponents, Allison Copening and Shirley Breeden, are like pets shut in the other room when company arrives, lest they do something to embarrass their owners.

Reid was driven to distraction by Ensign’s near-flawless campaign performance, which almost toppled him. Beers and Heck, though, are probably singing that old Zombies song (with an incomparable remake by Santana), “She’s Not There.” You remember: “Please don’t bother trying to find her; she’s not there.”

Indeed, Breeden ducked an event this week at Bob Miller Middle School and both candidates have refused to debate on “Face to Face.” I understand both Democrats recently agreed to an Oct. 16 “debate” on PBS, but only if there are no candidate-to-candidate questions. Too much margin for error in those, you know. And that — in a true through-the-looking-glass moment — has caused Beers and Heck to reconsider their attendance.

Beers, the more incendiary of the two Republicans, seems more upset, especially with a recent broadside issued by the Nevada Senate Democrats, who have been running the shadow campaign for Breeden and Copening. In a news release this week, the Democrats insisted they would repeal a bill that contained an amendment, exposed by the Sun’s J. Patrick Coolican, that benefited Beers’ former employer.

In a return volley Thursday, a Beers release was headlined: “State Sen. Beers Appalled at Political Maneuvering.”

Beers then expressed outrage at Minority Leader Steven Horsford’s “dirty tricks,” declared he had a green light from the attorney general at the time, and added, “There was no back door deal ... as these legislators allege, which constitutes libel.”

Strong words — words that might lead some to think Beers protests too much but lead me to believe he cannot contain himself. Libel? I don’t think so.

But Beers clearly is apoplectic that Copening, who has been accused by some of being a know-it-all while apparently knowing next to nothing, could be so close in the polls. He’s a guy who lost in the governor’s race to Jim Gibbons, still campaigning for worst chief executive in state annals, and now could lose his reelection bid to a shadow candidate who takes no positions. That has to be excruciating.

Speaking of excruciating, both of the GOP campaigns are being helmed by Robert Uithoven, who ran Gibbons’ gubernatorial campaign and had to weather a scandal-laden final month before his candidate won. Gibbons, like Heck and Beers, was a heavy favorite a year out, and barely survived. I wonder whether Uithoven is having any deja vu — if not from any scandals then from the struggle to survive.

Uithoven also sent out a release from Heck on Thursday about the debate-format controversy.

“Now, the Breeden handlers developed a new strategy, and they hope it will work. Breeden’s Party masters said they ‘agreed’ to allow Shirley Breeden to debate, but only if the rules were changed to not allow, well, actual debate,” Uithoven said in the release. “These rule changes were not agreed to by Senator Heck, and until the rules that were agreed to are restored, there will not be another out-of-district candidate forum. There have been plenty of candidate forums in this campaign. Joe Heck has been there. Breeden has not. It’s time to debate.”

Yes, he’s right — Breeden and Copening can’t get beyond their Palinesque talking points. Yes, this behavior by the “one tough mom,” as Breeden calls herself, is pathetic. But you can also sense the frustration (desperation?) in the Heck release’s tone — just like the Beers accusations and just like Reid’s frustration in Sun City 10 years ago.

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