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Was Trump-Biden debate a game changer? Don’t ask Nevada politicians

Updated July 3, 2024 - 9:03 am

While last week’s debate prompted further concerns about President Joe Biden’s cognitive fitness among pundits and some national Democrats, both Nevada Democrats and Republicans are shying away from the topic on the campaign trail.

Debates and campaign events usually have only temporary effects, according to Dan Lee, a political science professor at UNLV. Polls might change, but the effects dissipate over a couple of weeks, he said. Bigger predictors of election outcomes are partisanship and the state of the economy, he said.

But last week’s debate is different, Lee said. It was not like Biden gave a bad answer; rather, it brought up questions about his ability to be president, he said.

“Debates tend not to have lasting effects, but because this debate was more, you know, highlighting his perceived shortcomings in terms of his cognitive capabilities, that’s kind of something that could stick and what Democrats are worried about,” Lee said.

Voters have long expressed their concerns about both presidential candidates’ ages and ambivalence over the rematch. The debate heightened those concerns. A recent CBS News poll, for instance, found that 72 percent of 1,130 registered voters surveyed — including many Democrats — do not think Biden has the mental and cognitive health to serve as president. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett became the first Democratic lawmaker to publicly call on Biden to withdraw from the 2024 election. He cited multiple polls showing Biden running substantially behind Democratic senators in key states.

“I had hoped that the debate would provide some momentum to change that,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “It did not. Instead of reassuring voters, the President failed to effectively defend his many accomplishments and expose Trump’s many lies.”

Nevada campaigning to shy away from cognitive concerns

Nevada Democrats, however, are sticking with the president — though Sen. Jacky Rosen and other candidates have been maintaining a distance from the president, who has not polled well in Nevada — and the Nevada Republican Party does not plan to focus on Biden’s health as a top campaign strategy.

The state’s Democrats have been focusing on the actions the Biden administration has taken, from investing in affordable housing and infrastructure and trying to lower health care costs.

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who has campaigned for Biden and was named to his re-election advisory board, stands by the president.

“I’ve known him, I’ve supported him, I’ve worked with him for a long time,” Titus said. “And do I wish he’d have been stronger? Of course. Do I wish he’d have called out the lies better? Yes. Do I wish he’d focused on all the good things the Democrats have done under his leadership? Yes. But you’ve got to remember, you can’t just focus on the superficial.”

Instead, you have to focus on the substance, she said.

“You play the hand you’re dealt, and that’s what we’re going to do,” she said. Democrats’ goal is to show Nevadans who Biden really is and what he’s accomplished.

A spokesperson for Sen. Jacky Rosen’s campaign painted the election as a choice between an administration “focused on lowering costs, growing the middle class, and restoring reproductive freedom” and “Trump’s MAGA agenda,” while distancing her from the president.

“Senator Rosen is focused on her own re-election campaign and continuing her track record as one of the most bipartisan, independent, and effective Senators,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

‘Feel sorry’

Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald told the Review-Journal he felt sorry for Biden.

“I know he had a bad night, but I think it’s deeper than that,” he said Monday. “I feel sorry for his family. It’s a major concern of who is running the country right now.”

That said, the Republican Party won’t focus on those cognitive concerns at a state level, said McDonald, who took on the role as senior campaign adviser for the Trump campaign.

Rather, McDonald said, the party will push on Trump’s record of helping working people and will highlight his plans and outlook for the future.

“We’re going to show the difference between the two,” he said.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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