Commentary

Democrats are campaigning like it’s just another election year. It’s not.

September 22, 2022 7:49 am

The campaigns of Sisolak and Cortez Masto are running garden-variety attack ads while largely ignoring the elephant in the room. (Cortez Masto and Sisolak campaign ad stillshots; J6 photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A lot of Nevada politicians are getting called “corrupt” in political ads.

So are they? 

It being Nevada, the correct answer is: “could be.” 

Though they are likely corrupt in ways much more banal and mundane than the “history’s greatest monster” motif characterizing political ads.

And in some instances, candidates are corrupt in different ways altogether than those alleged by their opponents.

For example, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s campaign has been running ads portraying Republican challenger Adam Laxalt as corrupt because he is in the pocket of Big Oil, Big Pharma and other special interests.

Evidence of Laxalt being driven by or concerned about anything other than his insatiable and obviously life-long desire to be a celebrity career politician is identical to evidence backing up his claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. In both cases, there is none. 

So holding a sinecure for a law firm that rakes it in from Big Oil seems the sort of transactional venality that’s right up his alley. As does taking policy positions in exchange for money.

Those are also exactly the sort of things an estimated ten out of ten (not a scientific estimate) candidates for statewide or congressional office would do. And in fairness to them, a couple points: First, with the exception of people running for, oh, a seat on a soil conservation district board in some Dakota or other, if you don’t get money, you don’t get elected. Second, candidates often get a lot of money from special interests because they have the same positions as those special interests. As a U.S. senator, Laxalt would vote to subsidize and deregulate energy conglomerates even if he never had a job with no inbox at a law/lobbying firm with energy conglomerate clients. He just would.

But that’s not the problem with Cortez Masto’s efforts to cast Laxalt as corrupt. The problem with her campaign ads is that condemning Laxalt for being a standard-issue tool of powerful industries fails to come anywhere near close to doing Laxalt justice. 

Laxalt is a dutiful and obedient foot soldier in Donald Trump’s crusade to discredit democracy and replace it with a white supremacist authoritarian regime laced with Christian nationalist flavor spikes.

So Cortez Masto’s campaign is attacking Laxalt for … getting cash and prizes from Big Oil & Big Pharma? 

What, or more to the point when, does she think this is? 1998?

On the other side of the same Trump-headed coin, Republican ads are attacking Democrats for being corrupt.

Republican candidate for governor Joe Lombardo’s campaign and its independent expenditure group allies are all Northshore all the time. They’re going after Gov. Steve Sisolak because his administration appears to have had a role in helping get a covid testing company called Northshore up and running (when people really wanted covid testing companies up and running), and then it turned out the company was probably sketchy and its test results were super wrong – at least according to one study of 51 tests.

Needless to say this has been great for people Lombardo’s campaign pays to make attack ads. They’re having a ball. It will continue to be all Northshore all the time until election day.

It’s also pretty sweet for Lombardo – not just his prospects of winning, but for his comfort level while campaigning for a job that seemed a weird at best fit from the start. 

When he announced he was running for governor, nobody had heard of Northshore, and the main question about Lombardo’s candidacy was … why? His campaign directed him to mumble some things about socialism and critical race theory, and had him do a lot of Wyatt Earp cosplaying. But what Lombardo actually wanted to do if elected governor was always murky. It still is.

Fortunately for Lombardo, he needn’t worry about any of that for the time being. To paraphrase Joe Biden’s famous quip about Rudy Giuliani, for the rest of the campaign all Lombardo has to say is a noun, a verb, and Northshore. 

That must be a relief for his handlers. The Lombardo as Tough Lawman of the West thing they were trying to rock obviously wasn’t hitting home as hard as they hoped. They’ll be focused like a laser beam on making the governor’s race all about corruption from here on out. It’s what they’ve got.

Which brings us again to the most blatantly and dangerously corrupt politician in U.S history, Trump. 

We are supposed to believe that Lombardo, who first sought and then basked in Trump’s endorsement, sincerely cares about and is truly offended by…corruption?

That’s preposterous. 

The act might work though. 

For his part, Sisolak has also called Lombardo corrupt, not because Lombardo condones Trump’s rampant lawless venality, but for … potential campaign rule violations? 

What, or more to the point when, does Sisolak think this is? 1974?

Democrats have been leaning in to the abortion issue hard. You can tell it’s effective because Republicans don’t want to talk about it.

Perhaps just as much – maybe more? – than abortion, Laxalt and Lombardo also don’t want to talk about the insurrection, the classified documents, and all the other perversions and disgraces that have been tolerated or embraced under the terms of the Republican Party’s abject surrender to Trump and Trumpism.

The relatively slight mention of Trump by Sisolak’s campaign is particularly confounding. He may not care to admit it, but Sisolak’s victory in 2018 was not, alas, due to an inspiring policy agenda or a winning personality. The three issues deciding that election were, in order, Trump, Trump, and Trump.

Someone sometime somewhere must have run a hotly contested campaign for governor or Senate that is more cautious and defensive than the campaigns Sisolak, Cortez Masto, and their allied organizations are running this year. But an example doesn’t come to mind.

No one should worry about Sisolak and Cortez Masto personally. If they lose, there’s always some high-dollar outfit that wants to hire ex-governors and ex-senators. (Oh hi, MGM). They’ll be fine.

But it’s not about them. It’s about the people who are, for now anyway, their constituents. The governor and the senator both know what’s at stake, and they know this is not just another campaign year. Yet they’re campaigning like it is.

***

Addendum: Cortez Masto and her campaign must have snickered and rolled their eyes when they read this column Thursday, knowing, as surely they must have, that the very next morning they would announce the release of a statewide ad titled Adam Laxalt, “The Proud Face of the Big Lie in Nevada.” Your turn, Sisolak.)

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.

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