Democrats signal they are building oppo file on Sandoval, despite absence of viable candidate

State Democrats are building an opposition research file against Gov. Brian Sandoval, and based on a release today, they are signaling they are not afraid to use it early in the cycle.

The fact that the party is accumulating information to use against the popular governor is not that surprising. But bereft of any likely candidate -- apres the attorney general, le deluge -- the unfurling of some of that research, and using an interesting issue on which to deploy it, is noteworthy.

Thursday's release focused on what was first a state outrage, then a regional scandal and could become a national story if Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius takes action: Mental health patient-dumping.

The Democrats hope to portray Sandoval as essentially uncaring -- not a new strategy for Democrats vs. Republicans on these kinds of issues -- as the release headline blared: "Sandoval FINALLY comments on Patient Dumping Scandal, Defends Facility Accused of the Practice"

Ordinarily, I would yawn and then sigh about this issue. Nevada has for years given short shrift to mental health and cut services mostly because there is no political downside. Even with a sensational story such as the sad tale of Steven Brooks, there has never been any penalty for governors or lawmakers who don't pay much attention to the mentally ill.

But this issue may be different. The thought of a hospital essentially discharging patients, handing them a bus ticket and asking them to take their affilctions out of state is appalling to most voters, I'd guess. (No polling necessary)

The Sacramento Bee has done a series of stories on the practice and a California lawmaker has called on the feds to investigate. Sandoval has pretty much stiff-armed anyone who has asked for a comment on the practice, but he had little choice but to offer answers, no matter how generic, when KSNV's Marissa Mike thrust a microphone in his face (Look for the report under "News 3 on Demand")

Sandoval, as is his specialty, deflected many of Mike's questions, giving answers about waiting for more information and defending the quality of care at the Rawson-Neal psychiatric facility. It was the latter comment that sparked the hyperventilating (a specialty) Democratic Party release, as if Sandoval were saying patient-dumping is just fine with him.

It's a typical, smashmouth release from the Democratic machine to a Republican statement, which Sharron Angle and Dean Heller can attest to in the last couple of U.S. Senate races and Joe Heck can on an almost daily basis (Have you heard of the "Heckquester" yet?) as he runs for re-election. What struck me about the Sandoval release was the section I remember reading at the bottom of most Angle/Heller/Heck releases, which is the so-called "background," with links to stories backing up assertions, in this case that Sandoval's budget has slashed mental health funding. That is part of a computerized oppo file, organized by subject -- push a button and it appears in a release.

Whether this is pro forma or serious will play out in the next year as we see how the patient-dumping issue develops, how Sandoval's numbers look and how the Democrats recruit somebody (anybody?)  to run against him. Sandoval, as I have already pointed out (and more than once, already has his campaign up and running. The governor's operation is using social media to contact voters even before the session ends.

Either way, this simply shows (again) how relentless the state Democratic Party operation is, always looking to pummel a Republican, either hoping to cause damage or provoke a response, or both. (Think about it: If someone like Erin Bilbray had floated her name to run against Rep. Steven Horsford this early and gone to DC to test the waters, the state party would have been sending releases and pounding her daily on Twitter to dissuade her. The state GOP? Well, they opened a new headquarters. I doubt those folks know who Erin Bilbray is.)

Yes, it's early. But for the next 500 days or so, whether or not he gets a serious opponent, Sandoval is going to hear from the Democratic Party quite regularly.