Las Vegas Sun

September 26, 2022

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Conservative PAC’s ads seek to make Nevada governor’s race a referendum on Biden’s policies

20220912_SUN_SISOLAK-BIDEN-BILLBOARD

Christopher DeVargas

A campaign billboard for Gov. Steve Sisolak featuring President Biden is seen on West Horizon Ridge Parkway near Horizon Drive in Henderson, Monday Sept. 12, 2022.

For a particular campaign sign that has popped up across Las Vegas as the midterm elections draw near, the message couldn’t be more clear.

At face value, anyway.

It shows President Joe Biden and Gov. Steve Sisolak side-by-side in a chummy fashion, proclaiming them the “Democrat Dream Team for Nevada.”

The catch: It’s not an ad that’s paid for by the Sisolak campaign.

Rather, the ad comes from Better Nevada, a conservative political action committee advocating for Clark County Sheriff Lombardo, the Republican attempting to unseat Sisolak for the state’s highest elective office.

The group is also responsible for several pro-Lombardo ads on Facebook. The social media’s ad tracking indicates 190 of these ads appear on its platform.

Conflating a political candidate with an unpopular sitting president is a common election season tactic, said David Damore, a political science expert at UNLV.

Conservatives have dogged Biden over high gas prices and record inflation rocking the nation, although the fuel pricing platform GasBuddy late last week showed the national average for a gallon of gas at $3.72 — far from the high of $5.02 in June, according to AAA.

“The goal here, obviously, is to try to make the entire election a referendum on the Democrats in both Washington and in Nevada, as opposed to what the Democrats want, to make it a choice between candidates,” Damore said. “You saw that in 2018 with (Donald) Trump. It’s a clever effort to try and break through the noise.”

In a statement to the Sun, Reeves Oyster, a spokeswoman for Sisolak’s campaign, called the ads “deceitful.” Neither Better Nevada nor Lombardo’s campaign responded to multiple requests for comment.

In August, far-right news site Breitbart reported that more than 25 of the Biden-Sisolak signs would be on video billboards throughout Las Vegas and Reno, and another 650 four-foot-by-eight-foot signs across the state.

“These signs are nothing more than a deceitful attempt to shift the narrative away from Joe Lombardo’s out-of-touch stances, corrupt record and flailing campaign,” Oyster said.

Damore pointed out Democrats used a similar tactic earlier this year, running ads ahead of the Republican primaries supporting candidates they saw as either far-right or pro-Trump, with the hope being if they won their primary they would be an easily beatable opponent.

Even Sisolak’s campaign launched a website, joelombardosplans.com, slamming Lombardo as an “anti-choice” candidate who would work to erase Nevada’s abortion protections (which are codified in the state’s constitution) and access to contraceptives.

In a Twitter postMonday, Lombardo called the website, which is run by the Committee to Elect Steve Sisolak, “fake.”

Sisolak’s campaign defended the website, stating it’s just showing voters Lombardo’s record when speaking publicly.

Biden won Nevada by about 2.5% in 2020, and voters here have sided with the Democratic presidential nominee since Barack Obama in 2008.

Yet, Nevada is firmly entrenched as a battleground state, and a close outcome is expected in the governor’s race and the U.S. Senate race.Incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is seeking reelection against Adam Laxalt in a contest that could determine which party has the majority representation in the U.S. Senate.

An Emerson College poll published Tuesday showed Sisolak and Lombardo locked in a dead heat with fewer than eight weeks to go before the election. It found both candidates polling at 40% with 12% undecided and another 4% planning to vote for someone else. Fifty-two percent of respondents, however, said no matter whom they support they expect Sisolak to win reelection.

The poll also found that just 37% of Nevada respondents approve of Biden’s job performance and 53% disapprove. Should Biden and Trump face off again in the 2024 presidential election, 43% of Nevadans polled would support Trump, compared to 40% who say they would vote for Biden.

Liberal voters nationwide have been energized after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, and the passage of bills in recent months like the Inflation Reduction Act as well as Biden’s recent decision to erase up to $20,000 in federal student debt have stopped the party’s sliding popularity, Damore said.

And even though polling shows a slew of competitive races nationally, it will still be difficult for Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, to retain control, Damore added.

“I think for a long time, Democrats, even in the early part of the summer, were really struggling for a message, and now they have one,” Damore said. “Republicans are now sort of caught a little flat-footed … but again, the broad goal here is to make this a referendum about the party in power.”