MY COLUMN: Time for media to call out craven candidates

The candidates, having ceded their credibility and had their backbones removed by party spin doctors, were hiding.

Their masters did not want them to debate for fear they might commit a gaffe – that is, they might reveal they knew nothing about anything or something that could be politically damaging. (The horror.)

Their roles were simple and they needed to know them and stay mute: They were simply bullets loaded into a campaign gun so the Democrats could take over the state Senate and kill two ambitious Republicans.

They took almost no positions, ran cookie-cutter campaigns, mostly refused to debate their opponents and ran campaigns of invisibility worthy of satire. And they won.

Alison Copening and Shirley Breeden are now footnotes in Nevada history. Neither was re-elected after serving their purpose, with The Party of Reid carrying them to easy victories in the 2008 Obama Wave, thus erasing Bob Beers and Joe Heck from the playing field. (Both have found their way back – Beers is a Las Vegas councilman and now running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Joe Heck is a congressman who just might do the same someday.)

Six years later, irony-challenged Democrats are wailing about Republican state Senate candidates refusing to show themselves. They have even lumped in another state senator, Mark Hutchison, who was plucked from obscurity after a half term to be the governor’s stand-in should Brian Sandoval want to leave office at midterm to run against Reid (detect a pattern?) or seek a federal appointment. Hutchison is ducking me and my program, “Ralston Reports,” for no other reason than his team is confident he will defeat Assemblywoman Lucy Flores and doesn’t want to take any chances that The Disaster on Foremaster will happen again

“There is clearly a top down order from some smart Republican in the state telling all viable candidates to stay quiet,” one Democratic insider told me. “It's their election to lose.”

I could go on to write about the Democrats’ hypocrisy, considering their 2008 shamelessness. Or I could pen a piece about Hutchison’s cowardice, especially since he has always been more than solicitous in his dealings with me until the Team Hutchoval masters intervened.

But hypocrisy and timorousness are hardly partisan, and Hutchison’s behavior, as I have said, is hardly sui generis. What’s much more painfully interesting to me is a phenomenon that seems to worsen every cycle and is inimical to the political system: Candidates who are unwilling to take stands or take on their opponents in anything other than attack ads because they are listening to campaign Vince Lombardis who tell them winning is everything and losing comes from being accessible.

It is better to hide from tough questions or disgorge rhetorical mush than debate the future of the state (or America) with your opponent. The goal is to win and stay in office, preferably by doing as little as possible.

I’m not naïve. I get the game. But when I hear yet another operative tell me there is “no upside” in coming on my program, my gag reflex kicks in.

Before you decide this is the mewling of a snubbed pundit, let me assure you it’s much more than that. Do I think “Ralston Reports” has earned its place as THE venue for political discussions? I do.

But I also (mostly) don’t take it personally when people avoid the program because I will still cover them in this space or in my newsletter or elsewhere. I udnerstand it's about them, not me.

Harry Reid can use my supposedly unfair treatment of his family as a fig leaf. Dean Heller can simply be afraid and take counsel from one of the worst, most paranoid staffs in memory. And Mark Hutchison is panting so heavily about being Sandoval’s obedient No. 2 that he is willing to duck Flores simply because his team is so confident that he will beat the assemblywoman, who actually has more legislative experience and much different life experience than he has.

But what does it say about these candidates that they don’t want to face difficult questions? Most folks with any integrity and self-respect would relish the chance to take on their opponents, or even a journalist they think is unfair. (President Obama went on with Bill O’Reilly, right?)

Even if their consultants urge them to avoid uncomfortable situations, they should overrule them. That is, unless they are willing to mortgage their characters or reveal their true ones.

If I had a dime for every candidate who says, “My campaign manager says I shouldn’t….” Really?

This is what the system has mutated into, though. Parties so cling to power that they favor candidates who will say nothing and use their advantages to win seats so they can do….nothing.

Object lesson: Even after they controlled the Legislature, thanks to Copening and Breeden, the Democrats were too craven to lead, hampered by overly ambitious leaders and by a system that rewards inaction, not action.

This is true in Carson City, in other state capitals and in Washington, DC. There should be punishment for such behavior, but there rarely is because of gerrymandered districts or campaign funding disparities.

That’s where we come in. That is, the Fourth Estate.

We need to do our jobs better – and maybe louder. We should set aside our competitiveness here and collectively join and call out the likes of Hutchison for trying to determine the campaign’s course, and we should ignore the inane stunts such as the Democratic chicken, noticeably absent during the Breeden/Copening fowl performance of 2008. (By the way, I have been told that those GOP state Senate candidates who are being carefully groomed will come out and talk after Labor Day, as opposed to what Copening and Breeden did.)

The public rightly is disgusted with all of this and tunes out, which is what Team Hutchoval and others with money and power want to happen. The smaller the universe, the easier it is to manipulate.

The vicious cycle – run, hide, do nothing – will continue unless journalists shine the light and don’t turn it off.


(Pic via kittyreporter.)