Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2019

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Running as a conservative, Kate Marshall gathers little Democratic support

Kate Marshall

Kate Marshall

Kate Marshall resorted to an unusual tactic this week in her long-shot bid to become the first Democrat to win Nevada’s most Republican congressional district in the Sept. 13 special election: She publicly acknowledged that she’s a Democrat.

After spending much of the election running away from public displays of her party affiliation, she openly campaigned with the No. 2 ranking Democrat in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

If Marshall is elected to Congress, it will be Hoyer’s job as the Democratic whip to secure her vote for the caucus on everything from environmental policy to taxes.

That might be difficult. Marshall’s campaign strategy has been to tack conservative in the deeply Republican district, often putting her at odds with her party’s core positions.

Take taxes: Marshall has resolutely opposed eliminating the Bush tax cuts on wealthy income earners — a position popular not just with President Barack Obama, but with the inveterate Democratic voters Marshall needs to fuel her campaign.

That conflict was on display at Hoyer’s campaign stop with Marshall at a biodiesel manufacturer in Sparks last week. Using one of his favorite talking points, Hoyer pointed out Democratic President Bill Clinton generated budget surpluses — the only president to do so in his 30 years in Congress.

But Clinton did that with a higher tax rate, a reporter pointed out.

“Well, I’m for that,” Hoyer said of the proposal to increase the tax rate on those who make more than $250,000 a year. “Not only that, the president is for it. The Democrats have said they are for it.”

Marshall isn’t for it.

“No, I like to start with things I think will succeed first,” she said, repeating her support for closing corporate tax loopholes.

As Marshall stakes out a position to the right of her party — a position she hopes will appeal to the majority of the voters in the 2nd Congressional District — she’s found herself largely bereft of establishment support from her party.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee initially expressed interest in wresting the district away from Republicans and continuing the party’s special-election winning streak.

The support, however, hasn’t materialized, even as national Republican groups sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into helping former state Sen. Mark Amodei win the seat.

Although the committee is funding three field organizers to help turn out Marshall’s voters and is providing research support, it hasn’t bankrolled expensive television advertising the way national Republicans have.

“The reason probably is because right now the DCCC has spent a lot of money on NY26 and are trying to gear back up,” Hoyer said of the committee’s heavy infusion of cash to help Democrat Kathy Hochul win the longtime Republican congressional district in New York in a special election in May.

“This is a tough district … If we win this district, as I think we can, it will be because people are disgusted with Republicans,” Hoyer said.

Marshall had been successful with early fundraising, which the campaign committee had a strong hand in.

Hoyer described the Republican spending in CD2 as a sign they are worried about losing to Marshall. Others have a longer view, saying the ads, which largely link Marshall to Obama, are intended to soften up Washoe County — an important battleground in the 2012 presidential election — for the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

The storied Democratic turnout machine that has helped the party’s candidates chalk up surprise wins throughout Nevada since 2006 also appears to have gone dormant for the CD2 special election.

The first few days of early voting turnout has been nothing but troubling for Marshall, with Republicans outpacing Democrats in casting early and absentee ballots by 20 percentage points. Early voting ends Sept. 9.

It’s unlikely the Democratic machine has abandoned Marshall simply because she’s running counter to the party’s traditional positions. The committee, for example, played heavily in CD2 in 2006, when Democrat Jill Derby took on Republican Dean Heller for the open seat. Derby also took conservative positions on taxes and other issues.

That means the lack of support for Marshall likely sends a more dire message: This race isn’t winnable.

“The Dem machine in the summer of ’11 isn’t what it was or will be in a general election year,” one Democratic source said. “They won’t fire up the full machine for a special election unless it’s competitive enough to bring it home with an aggressive get-out-the-vote strategy.”

Marshall’s spokesman James Hallinan dismissed concerns about the anemic Democratic turnout. As of Wednesday, 16,746 Republicans had cast an early or absentee ballot, compared with 10,486 Democrats.

“It’s not something that concerns us,” he said. “We’re worried about the trend line on the long haul of early voting and on Election Day. Those are the voters who are in our persuasion universe.”

The “persuasion universe,” however, is likely small in a low-turnout special election. That means both candidates will have to rely on the inveterate voters in their parties, with little opportunity to drive independents or occasional voters to the polls. In the district, Republican inveterate voters far outnumber the Democrats.

That puts Marshall in a Catch-22. Her messaging, in some ways, alienates those voters.

Marshall will continue traversing that difficult tightrope between giving her party a reason to not only vote for her but fund the organization needed to get her voters to the polls.

And as the campaign stop with Hoyer proved, it can be an awkward process.

After the uncomfortable dispute over tax increases, Hoyer was slow with a comeback. It wasn’t until his motorcade was about to pull out of the parking lot that the idea occurred to him.

Jumping out of the back seat of his black SUV, the Democratic whip declared: “Kate is an independent! That’s why we differ!”

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