Freedom's Watch effort winding down


Freedom's Watch, the conservative group backed by Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, is pretty much kaput, sources with knowledge of the organization said.

The group's dozens of staffers have been paid through the end of the year. After that, Freedom's Watch is likely to shut its doors permanently, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Technically an issue-advocacy group rather than a political campaign arm, Washington-based Freedom's Watch spent $30 million on television and radio ads in the general election, plus an undisclosed amount on mail and phone-call campaigns.

It was active in four U.S. Senate races and about three dozen congressional races, said spokesman Ed Patru, though he declined to say how the group's favored candidates did on Nov. 4.

"Our focus was to impact the debate," he said.

Considering the bloodbath that befell Republicans, whom the group was typically inclined to support, it's safe to say Freedom's Watch did not have a good Election Night.

In Adelson's own backyard, Freedom's Watch aired ads locally slamming Democrat Dina Titus in her ultimately successful run for Congress. One memorable spot featured surgeons hunched over an operating table, exchanging the following dialogue:

"Oh my."

"Colitis?"

"No."

"Hepatitis?"

"No."

"Diverticulitis?"

"No, I'm afraid it's Dinatitus! Taxes up the yin-yang!"

Another anti-Titus commercial played off Titus' Southern accent and her alleged propensity for raising taxes.

"She must be from Taxes!" the ad drawled against a silhouette of the Lone Star State, even though Titus is from Georgia.

Patru, the group's spokesman, confirmed that much of the staff was on its way out but said this was always the plan based on the cyclical nature of electoral politics.

"Some staff are departing at the end of the year under the original terms of their employment," Patru said. "Much of the departing staff was brought in specifically to help with the anticipated increase in workload that comes along with an election year, when more attention is paid to public policy debates."

As for the organization's future, Patru maintained it was yet to be decided by the board of directors, which includes former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Sands Corp. President Bill Weidner.

"In the coming weeks and months, the organization will downsize," Patru said. "In terms of the future and what role the organization will play, those decisions will be made in the very near future."

Adelson reportedly was the source of the overwhelming majority of the group's funding as well as the guiding force behind its decisions. But the 75-year-old casino executive, whose company owns The Venetian and Palazzo, has suffered his own reversals of late.

The company has lost roughly 95 percent of its stock market value over the past 11 months, dropping Adelson's rank on the Forbes list of America's wealthiest people from third to 15th.

At the end of October, a New York compensation consulting firm estimated Adelson's net worth had fallen by more than $16.6 billion for the year.

Sands has suspended construction on projects in Las Vegas and Macau, and the company recently said it was in danger of defaulting on $5.2 billion in credit facilities.

Through a company spokesman, Adelson declined to comment last week on his political ventures.

WE'RE NOT CHEAP

The presidential candidates spent more per voter on television advertising in Nevada than in any other state, National Journal reported last week.

Nevada was the most expensive state on a per-vote basis for both Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, according to data compiled by TNS Media Intelligence/Center for Media Analysis Group.

Obama spent $14.85 on television for every vote he received in Nevada, a total of $7.9 million for about 530,000 votes. McCain spent $13.59 per Nevada vote, an outlay of $5.6 million for 412,000 votes.

Obama's next-highest per-voter spending was in Virginia ($12.15) and New Hampshire ($11.18), National Journal reported. McCain spent $9.25 per vote in New Mexico and $8.51 per vote in Pennsylvania, states he lost.

Despite Obama's big fundraising advantage nationally, McCain slightly outraised him in Nevada in the final tally, according to the Federal Election Commission. Each candidate raised nearly $2 million in the state.

McCain raised $1.96 million in Nevada, while Obama raised $1.94 million, according to the FEC's Web site.

THROUGH THICK AND THIN

McCain's financial haul in Nevada can be chalked up to his closest friend in the state, Las Vegas Republican consultant Sig Rogich, who hosted many a fundraiser for the Arizona senator and stuck by him when his campaign imploded mid-primary.

Rogich helped create television ads for George H.W. Bush's two presidential campaigns -- the winning one in 1988 and the losing one in 1992. Of McCain's ads, into which he said he had some input but not enough, Rogich said he was "not impressed."

Asked about the campaign McCain ran, Rogich said, "I think it was average. It wasn't above average. It wasn't below average. It took an exceptional campaign to win this presidency, and we were outspent 5 to 1."

Rogich said his campaign advice went largely unheeded because he wasn't at the table where the decisions were being made.

"You cannot be half in and half out of a presidential campaign," he said.

He felt that McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, was mishandled and failed to appeal to moderates.

"She needs to understand that America is a right-of-center nation, all things considered, but not far right of center," Rogich said. "She needs to appeal to the broad masses."

Every Republican these days appears to have a different view of the direction the demoralized and decimated party should take.

Rogich believes the GOP should eschew divisive social issues and moralistic scolding, emphasizing pragmatism and fiscal responsibility instead.

"The answer will be a reasonable sense of moderation," he said. "We all read the same public opinion polls. There is a new group of educated men and women coming into the mainstream now, and we're losing those people."

Rogich said he spoke to McCain recently.

"He's doing great, and we had a nice long talk," Rogich said. "I know his thought is to do what can be done to help the country. That was his essential theme -- Country First -- and it's the way he lives his life."

Review-Journal writer Howard Stutz contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.