Opinion: Lessons learned in Nevada as 2012 elections approach

With Michael Corrleone’s infamous quote from Godfather III in my mind, I went back on the campaign trail this summer to handle media relations for a special election to fill an open U.S. House seat in northern Nevada.

Conservative Republican Mark Amodei was a state senator and former GOP Chairman who won the nomination to run for the vacant House seat created when Dean Heller was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Amodei’s opponent was liberal Democrat and Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall, a UC Berkeley graduate who volunteered in the Peace Corps. Her mentor, Sen. Harry Reid, cleared the field for her to be the only candidate.

Amodei easily won the election by 22 points by hammering away on jobs and the economy. In a state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, this was the elixir. Thanks to the fantastic ads created by my good friend Rob Stutzman, the public quickly saw which candidate would protect their pocketbooks and work to create jobs, and which one was trying to run away from her progressive, anti-business, tax-and-spend buddies. During his closing statement at the final debate, Amodei gave what I thought was the sound byte of the election: “If you’re better off now than you were two years ago, with unemployment at 13 percent and taxes as high as they’ve ever been, and if you’re happy with the leadership of Barack Obama and Harry Reid, then I am not your candidate.” Game. Set. Match.

Pundits accurately labeled this race and a similar special election in New York as precursors for the 2012 elections. There is an incredible voters’ remorse that is anxious to end Obama’s Socialist agenda which devastated the economy and prevented job creation. What struck me the most during my time in Nevada was the intensity of this belief in even the most highly Democrat precincts of downtown Reno and Washoe County. If a tax-and-spend agenda turned off these voters, then Republican members of Congress in California – especially those in toss-up districts – must seize the moment and strategize accordingly.

Voters are pretty smart when you lay out the facts and let them check the record, and for incumbents in toss-up seats like Dan Lungren or Brian Bilbray this means reminding their constituents that President Obama and Democrats have failed to compromise or offer any real solutions to fix our economy. Three key themes to consider:

More Taxation Will Not Create Jobs. President Obama’s 2012 budget calls for $1.5 trillion in new taxes that will only further inhibit recovery. Obama claims that the majority of these tax increases will only impact the so-called “rich” but he has failed so far to explain just how they will do anything to create jobs. In contrast, Republicans in the House have offered a common-sense proposal that eliminates nearly $800 billion from President Obama’s mandatory universal health care as well as his other tax increases. Not surprisingly, Sen. Reid has led the charge in the Democrat-controlled Senate to kill this measure.

Too Much Government Spending Results in Too Few Jobs. In 2009, Obama claimed that if his trillion-dollar stimulus was approved that unemployment would not rise above 8 percent. Since 2009 the federal debt has grown more than 40 percent, and unemployment has of course remained at higher than 8 percent for 34 consecutive months – the longest stretch since the Great Depression. Lungren and Bilbray must remind voters that House Republicans followed through on their promise to pull spending back to 2008 levels and passed a budget that cuts $6.2 trillion in spending and reduces the deficit by $4.4 trillion over the next decade. Nevada voters were very unhappy that the size of government increased while 13 percent of the state was unemployed, and that message should resonate here as well.

Costly Regulations Cost Too Many Jobs. According to a 2010 report from the Small Business Administration, total regulatory costs amount to $1.75 trillion annually – enough money for businesses to provide 17.5 million private sector jobs with an average salary of $100,000. The eyes of every small business owner in Sacramento or San Diego should light up when they hear that statistic and if that doesn’t give them enough reason to vote next year then nothing will.

In the final analysis, the biggest takeaway from my Nevada experience is simply this: Voters are mad, and they will turn out – provided you give them a reason. Don’t just ask them if they feel better off after four years of “hope and change” – offer them common-sense solutions and a clear choice. Democrats may think Lungren and Bilbray are vulnerable but they have a record of responsible votes that enables the private sector to create jobs. That argument transcends party lines and should be enough to return them both to Washington, even in what could be an anti-incumbent election.

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