Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Ensign: Don’t color state blue just yet

Sun Politics Archives

Republicans say the presidential race in Nevada will be decided on three big issues and one big personality.

Sen. John Ensign said Wednesday that Nevadans would favor John McCain over Barack Obama in November because of the Arizona senator’s stance on guns, energy and taxes.

McCain political director Mike DuHaime argued that the campaign’s Nevada operation, energized by the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for vice president, would turn Republicans’ considerable voter-registration disadvantage into a “manageable deficit,” spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on voter outreach in the state before the registration window closes next month.

The comments came on a conference call organized by the Republican National Committee, ostensibly set up to highlight the McCain-Palin ticket’s appeal to Nevada voters on Western issues.

Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have spent the better part of the past two years laying the groundwork to turn Nevada and the Intermountain West blue in November. The state’s early presidential caucus in January gave Obama a precinct-level organization and helped build a 61,700-Democratic-voter edge here.

Democrats have sought to strip McCain of his natural advantage as a Westerner. Speaking to reporters in the run-up to the party’s convention last month, Reid said McCain “has lost touch with the West,” citing a range of issues, including the economy and the Iraq war. Reid specifically seized on comments McCain made to a Colorado newspaper regarding the Colorado River Compact, the 1922 agreement governing allocation of water to Western states. McCain suggested the compact should be “renegotiated” in light of “greater demands on a scarcer resource.”

After outcry from Western leaders from both parties, McCain sent a letter to Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard saying his comments “may have been” misconstrued. He said he did not support renegotiating the compact, but supports a “forward-looking” approach and a continuing dialogue among the states, “mindful of potential technological developments that could potentially reduce water demands in certain areas.”

On Wednesday, Ensign, Nevada’s junior senator, focused on bedrock Republican issues. He called the pairing of Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden “the most anti-gun ticket put forward in a presidential race.” Both senators, Ensign said, have F-ratings from the National Rifle Association. “Once Nevadans find out how anti-gun the ticket is, that could be a deciding factor,” he said.

Obama spokeswoman Kirsten Searer disputed Ensign’s characterization, saying the Democratic nominee has vowed to protect gun rights. She noted his strong performance among rural voters in the state’s caucus.

On taxes, Ensign questioned Obama’s pledge to cut them for 95 percent of working families. Obama’s proposed programs — and the attendant spending — will require tax increases “across the board,” he said.

Searer said Obama’s tax plan would cut taxes for more people than McCain’s, adding that the average family’s tax burden would be 16 percent less than it was under the Reagan administration. “Sen. Obama is not interested in raising taxes for working families who are struggling to get by,” she said.

Ensign also attacked Obama on energy, saying the Democrat’s opposition to offshore drilling would cost him votes. “In the state of Nevada, so reliant on tourism and people being able to get to our state, that could make a big difference in this election,” he said.

He added: “The Obama ticket is on the side of blocking any new fossil fuel energies. That is what’s driven up and kept the price of gasoline at the pump high.”

Obama has said he would consider limited offshore drilling as part of a larger energy bill that includes investments in renewable energy. He has also proposed a second round of stimulus packages providing tax relief to Americans in the short term.

On Yucca Mountain, Ensign said that although McCain supports the project, nuclear waste recycling — which McCain also supports — will make it “increasingly evident that Yucca Mountain is unnecessary. I think we’ll be able to convince him, along with the rest of the country, Yucca Mountain is a dead project.”

McCain finished third in the state’s Republican caucus and, because he did not campaign here during the primary season, his organization has been slow to take root. Indeed, Ensign and DuHaime seemed to acknowledge that Republican enthusiasm had been lacking in Nevada until McCain picked Palin as his running mate. DuHaime described Palin as a “shot of adrenaline” to the campaign, and Ensign said the campaign needed to capitalize on the “spark, more like a blowtorch” that her nomination ignited.

Fifty thousand volunteers signed up across the country the night of Palin’s convention speech, DuHaime said. That has been followed by a fivefold increase in volunteers, he said.

In Nevada, DuHaime said the campaign was spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on voter outreach, seeking to shrink the registration gap between the parties. While the campaign does not expect to catch the Democrats, it hopes to improve Republican standing in the rolls and is banking on Republican turnout.

“I think we’ll be in as good a position as we need to be to win the election,” he said.

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