Liberal ads hit Ensign for faulting stimulus

Political ad season has started up all over again, even though the next election isn’t for 21 months.

As liberal groups that have spent the past eight years in opposition make the transition to supporting a presidential administration, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is being targeted for not supporting President Barack Obama’s $800 billion-plus economic stimulus.

Ensign hasn’t said he’ll vote against it, but he has been one of the most vocal Republicans criticizing the bill, making numerous television and radio appearances to discuss what he sees as its flaws.

On Friday, the national group Americans United for Change began a radio ad accusing him of going against his constituents because Nevada voted for Obama by a 12-point margin in November and Obama wants the bill. The ad, running on FM stations in Las Vegas and Reno through this week, plays radio host Rush Limbaugh’s declaration, "I hope he (Obama) fails."

A narrator says, "We can understand why an extreme partisan like Rush Limbaugh wants President Obama’s jobs program to fail — but the members of Congress elected to represent the citizens in their districts? … Will our Senator John Ensign side with Rush Limbaugh too? Or will he … stand up for the people of Nevada?"

Ensign has been working with Obama, spokesman Tory Mazzola said. But "President Obama’s efforts to be bipartisan do not match the actions of Democrats in Congress," he said.

"Government has a role to play in helping our economy get back on track, but we’re talking about a trillion-dollar spending bill," he said. "Senator Ensign isn’t convinced that’s the best approach."

Meanwhile, television ads pressuring Ensign on the stimulus bill began running on networks in Las Vegas last week and continue this week. They’re by the Laborers International Union of North America, whose position is that the bill should be bigger, spend more money and fund more infrastructure projects.

In the two ads being aired, construction workers talk about the need for roads, bridges and energy systems to be built, creating jobs in the process.

Ensign’s colleague, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is also the subject of ads back home. There were those National Republican Senatorial Committee spots in Reno last week calling him a partisan free spender. And now there’s a statewide cable ad from the Service Employees International Union with a more welcome message for Reid.

"Harry Reid is taking the lead to cut taxes for struggling middle-class families," the ad says. "Call Senator Reid and thank him."

NYE OF THE TIGER

Gov. Jim Gibbons last week appointed a new member to the Nye County Commission who recently said that she supports the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Fely Quitevis is chairwoman of the Nye County Republican Party, owns a real estate company in Pahrump and serves on the state’s Judicial Discipline Commission. In December, she was part of a state Republican Party group that toured Yucca and heard the Department of Energy’s pitch for the project; afterward, she told the R-J, "Before I was against it, but now I am for it."

State Democrats pounced on the news, using it to question Gibbons’ stated opposition to the dump. Gibbons has proposed cutting the staff and funding of the state’s Nuclear Projects Office, and he once appointed a Yucca supporter to the Nuclear Projects Commission; both agencies’ mandate is to fight the project.

"After years of fighting, and with the election of a president that has vowed to end Yucca Mountain, Governor Gibbons is attempting to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory," Travis Brock, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said in a news release.

Gibbons spokesman Daniel Burns said Yucca Mountain wasn’t taken into account in Quitevis’ selection because the governor considers it a state and federal, not a county, issue. He noted that the project, while unpopular statewide, is widely supported in Nye County, the place Quitevis is charged with representing.

"Not everybody is against Yucca Mountain," Burns said. "I’m not sure her views don’t represent the views of a lot of people in Nye County."

As for Gibbons, Burns said, "Any suggestion the governor’s stance on Yucca Mountain has changed is a foolish question to ask. The governor is adamantly opposed to Yucca Mountain."

POLLS UP, POLLS DOWN

A poll released last week by a start-up conservative political action group, Legacy PAC, that hopes to target Reid in 2010 ironically gave Reid the best approval rating he’s seen in years, 47 percent.

The poll of 400 Nevada voters statewide, conducted late last month by NSON Public Opinion Research, also took Nevadans’ temperature on Gibbons and current and former members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Gibbons fared poorly as usual, with 30 percent favorable and 57 percent unfavorable, including 46 percent very unfavorable. Bad as that is, it’s slightly better than the Reno Gazette-Journal poll last week that found 25 percent of Nevadans approved of Gibbons’ performance, while 69 percent disapproved. Pollsters will tell you that job performance is a slightly different question than that of favorable vs. unfavorable.

GOP former Rep. Jon Porter, who could step up to run against Reid, got tepid ratings, 34 percent positive and 25 percent negative. Not bad for a guy who just lost a brutal election, or not great for a guy who wants to run a big race? Take your pick.

The best regarded Nevada member of Congress continues to be Sen. Ensign, of whom 59 percent of Nevadans have a favorable view and just 20 percent regard unfavorably. Nevada’s other members also had net positive marks:

• Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.: 38 percent favorable, 20 percent unfavorable.

• Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev.: 34 percent favorable, 17 percent unfavorable.

• Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.: 46 percent favorable, 37 percent unfavorable.

These are statewide ratings, not just in the representatives’ districts.

GONE IN 60 SECONDS

Reid ruffled some feathers recently when he told The Hill in an interview, "Medicare Advantage is gone."

The remark suggested Reid is out to get rid of the program through which private health plans provide Medicare benefits. Some liberals consider the Republican-backed Medicare Advantage program, created in 2003, a giveaway to the health insurance industry.

Reid aides later clarified that the senator does not intend to try to eliminate the program, but he does want to scale it back.

"In this tight economy, Sen. Reid is concerned about the cost of this program, which pays providers on average 13 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare," spokesman Jon Summers said.

The insurance industry, already on edge anticipating a health care reform push from the new administration, would fight any attempt to eliminate or curtail Medicare Advantage, said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans.

"If Congress decided to cut the Medicare Advantage program, that could mean reduced choices, reduced benefits and higher out-of-pocket costs for millions of seniors," Zirkelbach said.

More than 10 million people participate in the program, including 100,000 in Nevada — about one-third of the Nevadans who receive Medicare benefits, according to the industry. Enrollees report high levels of satisfaction with the program, Zirkelbach said, implying that Reid could have thousands of angry seniors on his hands if he sought to cut the program.

Stephens Media Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.

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