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Do Campaign Ads Actually Do Anything?

Sibbe Kokke/Flickr

It must be campaign season because campaign ads are showing up on television.

Will the ads actually work? 

Jon Ralston has seen his fair share of campaign ads. He's editor and founder of the Nevada Independent and he's been covering politics in Nevada for years.

He said most of the ads out now are just introductory ads to introduce candidates to the electorate. In the Democratic race for governor, candidates Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani are trying to get name recognition outside of Clark County.

Ralston said they are both up for a tough primary.

"They're going to have a very bloody primary," he said. "It has already started. It's very nasty already."

Ralston said both Sisolak and Giunchigliani are going to have to spend a lot of money to win the primary election, which is why he's given an edge to Republican candidate and current attorney general Adam Laxalt in the general election.

A recent poll by the Nevada Independent has Sisolak with a massive lead over Giunchigliani, but Ralston cautions against putting too much weight into the poll.

"There are still a lot of people who don't know much about these candidates," he said. "I think what Chris Giunchigliani hopes is that Sisolak's lead is what is said in the parlance of polling as a 'soft lead.'"

Ralston said the 'soft lead' is based mostly on name recognition: since Sisolak has more money in his campaign war chest than Giunchigliani, he decided to put out TV ads before she did, which means he has more name recognition.

However, Sisolak has declared himself a moderate Democrat and Giunchigliani is an unabashed liberal and has been one for some time. That  is likely to play better with the liberal base in a primary fight than Sisolak's moderate stance. In primary elections, the more extreme wings of any party are more likely to vote.

On the Republican side of the ticket, Ralston says the Nevada Independent poll put Laxalt way ahead of State Treasurer Dan Schwartz. 

Ralston said "that race is pretty much over."

As for Ryan Bundy, who is running as an independent, Ralston calls him a "wild card" for the conservative base. While he has a large following in the rural counties of Nevada, whether he'll make an impact on Laxalt's race for governor is yet to be seen.

"Anyway the Bundy factor cuts is not good for Adam Laxalt," Ralston said. "I do think that Bundy is going to be a factor. I just don't know if he's going to determine the outcome of the race of the race until we see how it ebbs and flows."

In the race for Senate, Congresswoman Jacky Rosen is putting out ads to introduce herself to people. Ralston said she needs to do that because she's relatively new to politics and many people still don't know who she is -- despite the fact that she won a seat in Congress in 2016.

Rosen is trying to unseat incumbent Dean Heller. The Nevada Independent polling numbers show them in a dead heat, but Rosen has raised more money for the campaign than Heller.

And President Trump could hurt Heller's chances, Ralston said.

"I think the dynamics of the race are really interesting in that Jacky Rosen is so unknown that Heller is going to try to portray her in a certain way -- and yet he's got this now albatross of Trump that he has to escape in off-year when the party of the president usually does poorly," Ralston said. "I think he's still very, very vulnerable but this poll shows that he has a path to victory."

As far as the other top races, Ralston says Danny Tarkanian is a huge favorite to win the Republican Party's nomination for Congressional District 3. He's likely to face Susie Lee on the Democratic ticket. 

In Congressional District 4, Ralston thinks the race for the Democratic side of the ticket could be interesting. He thinks Steve Horsford, who held that seat in the past, is a favorite but not a lock for the Democrats. 

Cresent Hardy, who also held that seat, is likely to win for the Republicans.

Jon Ralston, the Nevada Independent

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)