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August 20, 2019

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Jon Ralston:

Amodei plays it safe, Marshall swings for the fences in House special

Early voting starts five weeks from Saturday, and I think it’s safe to say the first House special election in Nevada history has proved to be one of the most bizarre.

Beyond an ad featuring a Chinese invasion of the capital — who expected that? — we have two candidates behaving in utterly strange ways. Or, maybe they just seem strange to the naked eye.

Republican Mark Amodei, the favorite because of the 2nd Congressional District’s demographics, seems intent on playing not to lose by being definitive on nothing. He has raised little money and appears to believe that if he keeps saying Barack Reid over and over again, that’s enough to win.

Guess what? He might be right.

Democrat Kate Marshall, who knows she needs a minor miracle, has been pushing her independence from Washington, careening from being to the left of Barack Reid (Social Security and Medicare are off the table) to the right of them (the stimulus was not transparent and accountable). She clearly believes in a two-pronged campaign, one featuring Mediscare tactics, the other the good old-fashioned kitchen sink.

Could it work? When Jupiter aligns with Mars …

To be fair, Marshall has a path to victory, albeit an unlikely one. It features a suppressed GOP turnout in rural Nevada, a huge Democratic outpouring in Washoe County and either an unforced Amodei error or a perfectly executed attack campaign. Even with all of that, Rep. Kate Marshall, D-Nev., seems more of a dream for the Democrats than a possibility.

I am surprised she did not capitalize on the opening Amodei delivered by being so light on fundraising — Marshall had twice as much on hand after the second quarter and Amodei had $40,000 in bills to pay. Although he was making evanescent TV buys attacking Barack Reid, why didn’t Marshall go up and define Amodei in a way that forced him to empty his war chest?

Yes, I know few are paying attention and that turnout may be in the teens. But if she waits much longer, she has taken an uphill travail and made it Sisyphean.

Not surprisingly, both candidates are hoping capital events will boost their campaigns. The unpopularity in CD2 of the Democratic agenda — and of the president and Senate majority leader as emblems of it — is a huge boon to Amodei. He is hardly a conservative — I expect Marshall to use his tax increase proposal and vote for the largest tax increase in history in 2003 against him, although I would love to see how she explains all the Democrats who voted for it.

Amodei has done quite the Baryshnikov on the Ryan budget and the debt ceiling debate, not alighting on support or opposition, saying he would “cozy up” to Ryan at one point and then saying it’s a “good start” at another. He knows what’s coming from Marshall — the Medicare/Social Security demagoguery, and he wants some breathing room. Even some of those hard-core rural Republicans are old folks who cherish their benefits, so Marshall must hope she can terrify them into staying home.

Probably better, Amodei figures, to be a windsock than to be destroyed by an entitlement tornado.

Marshall clearly is flailing about a bit, exaggerating her credentials and frothing so much about the GOP in D.C. that she erred on “Face to Face” this week.

The state treasurer actually argued Wednesday that she has “taken the state through this fiscal crisis, steered it with a steady hand.” Now this grotesque resume-inflation is transparent — although Marshall has done some innovative things to save the state money, she is not at the tiller (hello, Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Gang of 63) and does she really want to take credit for a ship of state still on the financial shoals?

Marshall also insisted the GOP’s magical “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan would make the Ely airport disappear, which is manifestly not so. (The airport could be lost in a new Federal Aviation Administration bill.)

Marshall also tried this week what can only be described as a ridiculously desperate swipe at Amodei by cherry-picking a legislative vote to argue the GOP nominee has a “Failed Voting Record Hurting Our Troops.” Really? The vote was an amendment for military bonuses that then-state Sen. Bob Coffin was trying to attach to every bill he could find. In a bipartisan way, Coffin was rebuffed time and again.

This came from the aforementioned kitchen sink, but this should have been washed down the drain. Marshall surely will continue to grasp at straws — although some of Amodei’s record could be damaging. But with just over a month until early voting begins, the treasurer needs to hit the jackpot soon, and it remains unlikely that a Megabucks issue is out there.

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