Campaign mailer gets personal, may cost endorsements

A campaign mailer for state Senate candidate Kathy McClain meant to belittle primary opponent Mark Manendo has stirred controversy over what some perceive as anti-gay innuendo.

The perception prompted two gay magazines in Las Vegas to reconsider their endorsements of McClain in Senate District 7. The controversy also drew an apology from Gary Gray, McClain’s political consultant.

The impact? "In a Democratic primary, if there is a notion that one of the candidates is in any way anti-gay, that could hurt that candidate," Democratic political consultant Jim Ferrence said.

McClain and Manendo have similar positions on many issues. The opponents, both members of the Nevada Assembly, voted the same way on 658 of 662 measures during the 2009 session of the Legislature. To distinguish themselves in the eyes of voters, they are launching personal attacks.

In the campaign mailer, which landed in mailboxes last week, McClain sought to depict herself as the only candidate in the race to be leading "a stable, mature life."

"Kathy McClain is in a long-term marriage and has three children and four grandchildren," the flier said.

It went on to contrast her lifestyle with that of Manendo: "Mark Manendo, age 42, has never married and has lived with his mother for long periods of time."

Neither McClain nor Manendo returned repeated calls to discuss the mailer.

Journalist Steve Friess, who is gay, received the mailer at his home May 17 and criticized it in his Vegas Happens Here blog.

Friess and others said the characterizations of Manendo, who is straight, were reminiscent of language used by unscrupulous political operatives to imply someone is gay to discredit the person in the eyes of voters.

"I think there have been times when gay people have been marginalized by comments like that," said Robert Forbuss, owner of the political consulting firm Strategic Alliance.

"A lot of people don’t get that, but I think if you were gay, you would understand that," said Forbuss, who is gay.

Forbuss, who is friends with Gray, said he is confident the mailer was not meant to convey anti-gay innuendo.

Gray is "one of the most steadfast supporters of the LGBT community I have ever seen," Forbuss said, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Gray said he was attempting to tell voters that Manendo has a personal life that is short on accomplishments and includes allegations of sexual harassment of women, allegations that prompted Democratic leaders to strip him of a committee chairmanship after the 2003 session of the Legislature.

Implying that Manendo is gay would undermine that message, Gray said.

"I have never in 25 years of campaigning ever raised any issue with a person’s sexual identity," said Gray, who added that the line in the mailer was "clumsily written" but not a veiled attempt to imply Manendo is gay.

The campaign mailer also piqued the interest of members of a committee that compiles candidate endorsements for QVegas and Las Vegas Night Beat, two gay-oriented magazines that print tens of thousands of copies monthly in the Las Vegas area.

The magazines already had printed endorsements in their May editions praising both McClain and Manendo as worthy choices in Senate District 7.

The mailer prompted some soul searching among endorsement committee members, but they decided to stand behind their endorsements of both.

But Bill Schafer, publisher of Night Beat, has written an editorial for the June edition of the magazine in which he criticizes Gray and says he will vote for Manendo.

Rob Schlegel, a real estate agent and former journalist who compiles the endorsements for the magazines, said he did not view the flier as anti-gay innuendo.

"I’ve known Gary Gray. I know his politics, and I can’t imagine that was his intention," Schlegel said.

Schlegel also said he would like to learn more about how the candidates would address a potential state government budget shortfall that could reach $3 billion by 2011, not personal accusations between the candidates.

"If it were up to me, I would like to see them explain how we are going to fund the basic level of government, which we are cutting at the moment," he said.

For 12 years the district had been represented by Sen. Terry Care, a Democrat who was forced out of office by term limits.

Competition between two Assembly members for a Senate seat that has been nearly uncontested since 1998 has resulted in some harsh campaign tactics.

"It is just unfortunate to see that sort of thing in any campaign," said Care, who has not endorsed either Democrat.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Senate district by a 2-to-1 margin. That means the winner of the Democratic primary is likely to defeat the winner of the Republican primary between Trish Marsh and Anthony Wright.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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