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Democrats Brace for Disappointment in Nevada

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Republican Mark Amodei is expected to win today’s special election race against Democrat Kate Marshall (above) in Nevada’s 2nd district. Strategists say the Marshall campaign struggled from the beginning, suffering from an unfocused message, a poor climate for Democrats and early spending by the GOP campaign committee.

“Marshall became a candidate that couldn’t win in this environment no matter what they would try to do to Amodei,” Stutzman said of the Democratic groups opting out of the race.

With Nevada’s unemployment the highest in the country, NRCC Political Director Mike Shields said the committee thought Reid would put forth an effort to win the district, which Obama lost by fewer than 100 votes in 2008 and which Heller won in 2006 by just 5 points.

“Had we not gone in early to define Marshall, we would’ve been forced to spend even more money and run the risk of an even more competitive race,” Shields said.

Stutzman said another key factor to the race was the fact that Amodei was on the air first. He launched an ad June 20, just days after winning the GOP nomination, that tied the race to the national debt crisis. The ad, which featured images of Chinese troops marching on the Capitol grounds, created a nationwide buzz for Amodei on TV and online.

Marshall wasn’t on the air for another month, and her first ads on July 27 slammed Amodei for sponsoring a tax increase in the state Legislature. The Nevada Democratic strategist said the Marshall campaign’s response missed the mark. Her team tried to raise money by calling the ad xenophobic and fear-mongering, and the strategist said the campaign should have instead said Amodei supports policies that encourage sending jobs to China.

“They had an opportunity to start defining Mark Amodei right out of the gate, and the campaign made a strategic decision that that wasn’t the thing to do,” the strategist said. “By the time they realized it, it was too late.”

The race opened with confusion over the state’s vague election law, as Nevada had never held a special election for a House seat. Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, declared the race would be a “ballot royal,” with an unlimited number of candidates from any party. But the state Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the major state parties could select their nominees, thereby ending any Democratic hopes of Marshall running against a split GOP ticket.

The Amodei campaign was also ready and waiting when the Marshall campaign finally launched an ad in early August focusing on Amodei’s support for House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan that would overhaul Medicare. It had been successful for Democrats in a surprising May victory in New York’s 26th district and looked like a potentially winning message for the party heading into 2012.

Amodei countered by tying Marshall to the Democratic health care law. By last week, Republican polling showed more voters trusted Amodei on the Medicare issue — thanks in part to Amodei’s mother making a cameo in an ad.

“The big thing is, when this all began it was going to be about Medicare again,” Stutzman said. “I guess if there was a punch line, it’s I think we showed a way to mitigate, if not win, on that issue.”

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