Traditional politics, untraditional race

Most Southern Nevadans probably are paying little attention to the race in the 2nd Congressional District. That’s understandable—only part of the county is in that district—but it’s still too bad. A few developments provide interesting lessons and parallels:

• According to a poll conducted by a group that works mainly for Republicans, Republican Mark Amodei leads Democrat Kate Marshall by 13 points. According to a poll conducted by a group that works mainly for Democrats, they are in a statistical dead heat.

First, did we learn nothing last year? Almost every poll you could find had Sharron Angle beating or even with Harry Reid. Except the ones done by Reid’s pollster, who had him ahead with a couple of weeks to go by the margin of victory that returned Reid to the Senate. Know that these are partisan polls.

Second, understand this old saw: When a candidate tells a pollster, “Tell me the truth,” the truth is the last thing the candidate wants to hear. Marshall could well be close to Amodei; he might well lead her by double digits. The smart money says each campaign has actual, real numbers.

Third, it brings to mind an old story. When Grant Sawyer was running for governor in 1958, a poll showed his primary opponent leading by 15 points. A reporter called the Sawyer campaign for a comment. One of Sawyer’s friends almost choked on the news, then said, “Not according to the Oklahoma poll.” What? Yes, he said, a polling group out of Oklahoma showed Sawyer up by 10.

Sawyer won the primary by more than 10 percent. Coincidentally, the Oklahoma poll didn’t exist. Grains of salt, please.

• Amodei and Marshall both are proud to have the support of gun-rights advocates, specifically the National Rifle Association.

Amodei got the official endorsement and proclaimed his love of hunting, meaning he’s lucky that deer don’t vote. Marshall countered with a letter from the NRA’s legislative director saying she was rated a pro-gun candidate through her responses to the questionnaire the NRA sends out. Marshall has never held an elective office other than state treasurer, so she hasn’t voted on bills affecting guns. Amodei has to look more conservative than he has been. He trumpeted the endorsement of Barbara Vucanovich, a former seven-term representative from his district, but she even said that Amodei is less conservative than she is. Marshall has attacked his vote for the 2003 tax hike.

Amodei also wants to make Marshall look more liberal than she is, although it’s hard to know exactly how liberal she actually is. But she has been critical of tax hikes, especially any that Amodei supported. She seems to be running a Derby-style campaign.

As in Jill Derby, who was the Democratic nominee in 2006 against then-Secretary of State Dean Heller. She is from Gardnerville and served on the Board of Regents for 18 years, so Heller painted her as an effete lefty. She painted herself as a Nevada cowgirl in blue jeans. She lost by about 6 percent but carried Washoe County, which is more Democratic than the rest of the district, and its Republicans tend to be a more moderate.

Marshall lives in Reno. Perhaps Marshall is playing or will play the old game of pursuing a more moderate line in a more moderate area—Washoe County—while sounding more conservative in anti-government rural Nevada. But she may want to remember that, although Derby still came closer than any other Democrat in that district’s history, she still lost, and to a moderate who ran to the right.