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Outside groups spending heavily to sway Nevada elections

Updated September 19, 2018 - 4:53 pm

The midterm elections are less than two months away, and outside groups are ramping up their spending in Nevada in hopes of influencing Silver State voters when they go to the polls.

Since Sept. 1, outside groups from across the political spectrum have announced plans to spend more than $17 million in races for Congress, governor, attorney general and more.

Much of the money coming into the state is going toward television and digital ads. And with competitive races all over the Nov. 6 general election ballot, Nevada is a prime target for groups supporting Democrats and Republicans.

Congressional races

Most political observers expect the GOP to lose seats in the House but say Nevada’s 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts could flip from blue to red. Republican Danny Tarkanian, who narrowly lost his CD3 bid in 2016, has been a big beneficiary of the outside attention.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee backed by House Republican leadership, announced Wednesday that it will spend $2.5 million on TV and digital ads attacking Democrat Susie Lee in that race.

The ad buy highlights how critical the seat is to Republicans, which flipped from red to blue after former Rep. Joe Heck left the House and Democrat Jacky Rosen won the seat in 2016. She defeated Tarkanian by 1 percentage point that year.

Now the seat is at play again in a district won by President Donald Trump in 2016.

The Congressional Leadership Fund launched its first TV ad painting Lee as out-of-touch with Nevadans. The ad likens her to House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi — saying both women are “rich, liberal and out for themselves”— focusing on Lee’s 17 homes, private plane and her investment in companies “that outsource American jobs.”

“Susie Lee couldn’t find the real world with a map and her driver— she opposed the middle-class tax cut and even invested in companies that outsource American jobs,” said Courtney Alexander, a CLF spokeswoman. “CLF looks forward to attacking and defining Susie Lee as the out-of-touch Pelosi liberal that she is.”

Lee’s campaign disputed the claim that she opposed middle-class tax cuts.

“Susie Lee has been clear that she supports more tax relief for middle class families and that the GOP tax plan did not do enough to cut taxes for middle class families,” said Lee campaign manager Brandon Cox.

The CLF announcement comes on the heels of a $1.5 million investment by America First Action into the Tarkanian-Lee race. The PAC, which is investing in 12 midterm races across the country, is dedicated to electing federal candidates “who support the agenda of the Trump-Pence administration,” officials said.

“As President Trump heads to Las Vegas on Thursday for what is sure to be an exciting rally in support of GOP candidates in Nevada, we’re pleased to be able to announce our support for Danny Tarkanian in NV-03, one of the top pickup opportunities for Republicans in the country.”

But not all the outside money in the race is against Lee.

EDF Action, the advocacy arm of the Environmental Defense Fund, this week announced it will spend $1 million targeting candidates in four competitive House races. The group is going after “three anti-environment incumbents” and Tarkanian. EDF officials said Tarkanian has a “documented scandal-ridden past” and extreme views on climate change. The group spent $175,000 in mailers against Tarkanian in the 2016 cycle.

National groups are investing big bucks to sway Nevada’s 4th Congressional District race, which is a rematch between Democrat Steven Horsford and Republican Cresent Hardy, who each held the district for one term before losing re-election bids.

The Democratic Congressional Congressional Committee is investing $3 million in Nevada, spokesman Andrew Godinich said.

On Wednesday, the committee released its first TV ad in the CD-4 race targeting Hardy and previously launched an ad against Tarkanian. The newest ad said Hardy’s priorities lie with billionaires and the Washington Republican agenda — not middle-class Nevadans.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee put out an ad attacking Horsford for working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. The NRCC has committed $3.6 million to Nevada races.

In Nevada’s U.S. Senate race, the Senate Leadership Fund is spending $1.1 million to target Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen, who is challenging GOP Sen. Dean Heller.

Statewide races

Federal races always get outside attention, but key in-state races have also gotten plenty of love.

On Tuesday, Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun reform group financed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced that it would spend $3.5 million to support Democrats Steve Sisolak and Aaron Ford, who are running for governor and attorney general, respectively.

This isn’t the first Nevada election the gun reform group has poured money into, either. In 2016, Everytown for Gun Safety was a major funder of Question 1, which sought to expand background checks to include all firearm transfers, including personal sales. The group put nearly $15 million into that effort, helping the measure narrowly pass.

The measure, however, has not truly gone into effect as Laxalt, the current attorney general of Nevada, has said it cannot be enforced because the FBI won’t conduct the background checks.

“Almost two years after Nevada voted to expand background checks to unlicensed gun sales, that deadly loophole remains wide open,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement announcing the investment. “Now Nevadans are looking for leaders who understand that respecting the will of the people is not optional. Everytown is proud to support Steve Sisolak for Governor and Aaron Ford for Attorney General, two gun-sense champions who are committed to protecting the people of Nevada — not the NRA.”

Question 5, the automatic voter registration initiative on November’s ballot, got a boost this month when the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would spend $1.15 million to support the measure.

That ACLU injection is significant as it represented the first time the national civil rights group has put money into a Nevada ballot measure.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter. Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter. Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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