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Ralston And Sebelius On Half Truths In Attack Ads


Presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debated each other for the first time Monday. 

Ralston, in your Reno Gazette-Journal column you noted that only two low-level politicians were quoted in a Trump press release entitled “Nevada Leaders React to Donald Trump's Debate Victory.” Who were they? And what did top Nevada GOP leaders thought of Trump’s performance in the debate?

Ralston: There were two people quoted. One was the state director for Trump and the other was a low-level politician Chris Edwards, an assemblyman who has now apparently been drafted by the Trump camp to speak for him because he is the only one who will willingly do it besides Mark Amodei. They couldn’t even get Mark Amodei, who is the chairman of Trump’s campaign in Nevada, to say anything.

I’m sure if they were looking at it with clear eyes they thought it was a disaster, as would anybody who was looking at it with clear eyes.

And Steve, Newsweek just released a bombshell of a report on Donald Trump’s business dealings in Cuba. It says he knew about one of his businesses doing business there, even though it was against federal law to do so at the time. My question closer to home: Will Nevada's Republican candidates, like Joe Heck, keep supporting Trump with this kind of news?

Sebelius: I think what they’ve tried to do is split a hair — a very, very thin hair. They’ve tried to split it very finely. They’ve said, “Look, Trump is the Republican nominee. I’ve always said I would support the Republican nominee. However, I would like to say I part ways with the nominee on certain issues, for example, the way he speaks about minorities, the way he speaks about women, or his secret business dealings in Cuba.” And as that list of exceptions and bifurcations becomes longer. It becomes more and more ridiculous when these guys express their support for him.

Is Joe Heck going to distance himself from Trump?

Ralston: I think that’s impossible at this point when he’s done an interview with CNN, when he said he was fine with Trump having the nuclear codes and when pressed on why he would feel that way, he said: “Why wouldn’t I?”

It’s not like Donald Trump’s performance in that debate should have unsettled anyone who thought he should have the nuclear codes, they should have been unsettled long before that. Heck is going to publicly support Trump, I guess, while his campaign at a very granular level with micro-targeting will try to separate himself from Trump. Because I still think, despite how close the polls are in this state, Trump has to be seen as a slight underdog in this state and Heck’s entire campaign strategy is predicated on Trump not losing the state by more than five points or so, because that’s when he gets into trouble.

Politifact looked at the claim that Catherine Cortez Masto didn’t do much about untested rape kits, and found it “half-true.” How will this issue figure into her campaign?

Sebelius: That is a real victory for opponents of Catherine Cortez Masto. They’ve been airing ads against her this entire time to say basically that she didn’t care about rape victims. That is their interpretation of what’s going on. There were a large number of untested rape kits. This came to light at the end of her tenure in office. She did try to get money to try to start testing these rape kits, when it was revealed that there were kits that were untested.

The rating of this as half-true is damaging to Catherine Cortez Masto’s campaign only because it’s become such a point of contention and there has been so much money in negative ads pointed at her over this very issue.

Do all the negative ads turn people off?

Ralston: Boo-hoo! Is what I say always at this time of year to you and the other people who are overly sensitive about negative ads. People always complain about negative ads, but in exit polling, when asked why they voted against a certain candidate, site something in one of the negative ads.

I think this Senate race is different in that there are so many, so many negative ads that I think it does become noise and essentially all becomes about what the composition of the electorate is going to be on November 8.

What about these two new groups coming out against the $1.9 billion stadium plan – one is a faith-based group; the other is the venerable Nevada Taxpayers Association. My question is: why have they come out so late? Many of the details, especially which the taxpayer association would focus on – public taxes – have been known for months.

Ralston: I think they rightly waited to see if it was going to be approved by the committee and see what the final version is.

This is a new era for the Nevada Taxpayers Association without the legendary Carole Vilardo and they did what Carole Vilardo would have done: They waited and then they essentially picked it apart.

There are a lot of public policy questions that legislators should – I emphasis should – have to answer if there’s a special session. And the NTA raised a lot of those. Similar questions raised by a group called Nevadans for the Common Good this week, which essentially have to do with the bonds, which would revert to county taxpayers if they default on that $750 million. Those on the stadium committee say they put enough protections in there for taxpayers. Legislators should have to defend that, just as they should have to defend the construction of this entire stadium funding package.

The NTA has a lot of credibility with legislators. Whether it has influence, that is political influence, we’ll find out.

Jon Ralston, Reno Gazette-Journal columnist and analyst at KTNV;  Steve Sebelius, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist and host of Politics Now on KLAS.

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.