In the stretch

Big names fire the bases

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns at UNR for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jacky Rosen, center, and lieutenant governor candidate Kate Marshall.

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns at UNR for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jacky Rosen, center, and lieutenant governor candidate Kate Marshall.

PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS

Bernie Sanders returned to the University of Nevada, Reno last week. The Vermont Democratic senator spoke to a rally on the same site in front of the campus library of his first appearance at UNR, in August 2015, when his come-from-behind presidential campaign that tied Hillary Clinton in Iowa and won in New Hampshire was still ahead of him. He returned to the campus the next year, in October 2016, to campaign for Clinton.

This time, UNR was a stop on a nine-state campaign swing for Democratic candidates across the nation, particularly U.S. Senate candidates. Introducing him in Reno was U.S. Senate nominee Jacky Rosen, who used some of the same economic populist themes Sanders made popular in his presidential campaign. Citizens should not have to choose “between paying their rent and taking their child to the doctor,” she said. She also had a rejoinder to one of her opponent’s “independent” committees, the Senate Leadership Fund, which is running ads that say Rosen “votes with Nancy Pelosi 90 percent of the time.” Her Republican opponent, incumbent Dean Heller, votes with Donald Trump “96 percent of the time,” she said. Nevadans, it will be recalled, voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump, and Trump’s unfavorable numbers in the state outpace his favorable numbers.

Sanders tried to reduce expectations of Democratic chances in the election, in which journalism has portrayed takeovers of the House and Senate as tests of whether the Democrats are competitive with the Donald Trump version of the Republican Party. “I happen not to believe that there’s going to be this great blue wave,” Sanders said, suggesting he thinks Democratic gains, not takeovers, are the test.

“A few years ago when I was on this campus, and I talked about the need to guarantee health care to all people, and I talked about Medicare for all, it was seen as a radical idea, an extreme idea,” Sanders said. “A poll came out just the other day. Seventy percent of the American people now support Medicare for all.”

That played into Rosen’s strategy of holding Heller responsible for the erosion of the Affordable Care Act during the Republican Congress. “It’s time to repeal and replace Dean Heller,” Rosen said in her introductory remarks.

Time and again, Sanders beat on Heller for supporting the one percent over everyday citizens, taking a tack that more cautious Democratic leaders have tried to avoid. He also spoke out on the one percent’s influence in elections and the impact of Citizens United, one of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that opened the faucet of unlimited spending by the rich, an issue that has particular resonance in Nevada this year.

Red Rock retiree Greta Anderson held up a Sanders sign and gave the peace sign.

PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS

“Do you really want to give $1 trillion in tax breaks to the one percent?” he asked a small group of Trump supporters in the audience.

Billionaires Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett, Tom Steyer, and Henry Nicholas III all have ballot measures they are supporting or opposing in the state, and at least three of them are also handing out money to candidates, mostly Republicans. Adelson has parceled out $87 million nationally, and he and his family’s contributions to Nevada GOP nominee for governor Adam Laxalt are in six figures.

“The Republicans win elections when working people don’t vote and when billionaires buy elections,” he said.

But Sanders also spent a good deal of time on values and moral leadership. United States presidents have always premised their presidencies on certain broad themes, he said, but not Trump: “One of the most important things to do is to bring people together, not to divide them up.”

Sanders enjoys unusual good will in an era of meanspirited politics and polarization. Gallup reported on Oct. 5, “In the more than three years Gallup has tracked Sanders’ favorability, his favorable ratings have consistently outweighed his unfavorable ones—only twice were they tied. … In Gallup’s most recent poll, conducted Sept. 4-12, Sanders has a much more favorable image than either of the other major contenders in the 2016 presidential election—Hillary Clinton (36 percent) and President Donald Trump (41 percent).”

Sanders’ supporters in Nevada have stayed involved in public affairs since he lost the presidential nomination. They protested both Columbus Day in Reno and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) at President Obama’s visit to Lake Tahoe during the last weeks of his presidency. Some ran for office. Others worked with Black Lives Matter. They joined with conservatives to try to stop corporate welfare for the Oakland Raiders at the Nevada Legislature.

Pence comes calling

PHOTO/DENNIS MYERS

Three days after Sanders’ appearance, Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Carson City for Rosen’s opponent, Dean Heller. Like Sanders, Pence hit hot button issues to try to rouse the party base to vote.

“It’s a choice between tax cuts and tax hikes, between strong borders or open borders, between protecting Medicare as we know it or starting this Medicare-for-all business that will just bankrupt the system,” Pence said at the Carson airport. He called Heller “a Nevada original.”

Pence also called Heller “100 percent pro-life,” which is not the case. While Heller has cast votes against ancillary abortion issues like federal funding and stem cell lines, he supports a woman’s right to abortion.

Pence’s visit went smoothly on a day that was a difficult one to navigate politically. Pence was in the Nevada capital on Nevada Day, a festive occasion, and also on the day of the Pittsburgh Shabbat service shooting. Pence said the shooting was “not just criminal, it was evil.”

Pence managed his airport visit without making any major mistakes, in contrast with his 1960s predecessor, Spiro Agnew, who was on a visit to the Carson airport when he said of a reporter, “What’s the matter with the fat Jap?”—igniting a major controversy in the 1968 campaign.

Celebrity visits do not have the impact they once had in political races. Their effect tends to fade relatively quickly. In his first, unsuccessful U.S. Senate race in 1964, Nevada’s Paul Laxalt was hurt badly by visits to Nevada by President Johnson. It was still an era when a popular speaker could shift votes, and Laxalt lost the race by fewer than a hundred votes.

By 1986, however, when Laxalt was retiring as a senator and wanted to be sure to be replaced by a Republican, he fought White House aides to bring President Reagan to Nevada for campaign stops. Laxalt succeeded in getting the stops, but they had little lasting impact, and Laxalt was succeeded by Democrat Harry Reid.

But early voting has made it possible to exploit what impact those visits do have before it fades. That was demonstrated during the Sanders visit last week. As it happened, there was an early voting station one building away, in the student union, and numerous speakers pointed that out to the audience members. When the rally was over, rally participants headed to the voting station and stood in line for the chance to vote.