Insider Interview: Nevada's Paul Adams
He started a website called "Reid's Retchings", hoping to make it a clearinghouse for comments made by the Nevada Senator that Adams believed were not getting enough attention from the media. "I was pissed," recalls Adams, the chairman of Nevada's Republican Party. "I thought it was completely inappropriate to say that on the national stage especially in a time of war."
"Reid's Retchings" soon became "The Reid World" a compendium of Reid comments and commentary maintained by Adams and sponsored by the Republican Party. Adams makes no apologies for his coordination with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee -- both of whom supply him with occasional material and research. The goal? "An erosion of his stature," said Adams. "Long term we'd like to knock him off and put a good Republican in there."
Welcome to the Daschle-ization of Harry Reid -- Nevada style. Long before Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) stood for re-election in 2004, Republicans used a coordinated effort on the state and national level to paint him as out-of-step with the conservative-minded electorate of South Dakota. Although Daschle and his operatives insisted that South Dakotans knew partisan rhetoric when they heard it, the drumbeat damaged the incumbent. He lost a bid for a fourth term in November 2004 to Sen. John Thune (R).
In the hours following Daschle's defeat, Reid quickly lined up the necessary support to become Minority Leader -- and immediately became the new favorite target for Republicans. While no serious Republican appears to be readying a bid against Reid in 2010, GOPers hope to soften the Nevada Democrat's numbers enough to entice someone to do so down the road.
Adams is an unlikely foil for the ultra-political Reid, who has been running office or serving in office for more than three decades. Prior to being elected party chairman in late 2004, Adams had never been seriously involved in politics. Adams spent his formative years in the military, graduating from West Point in 1976 and then going on to a career as an Army lawyer. He left the military in the mid 1980s and went to work for a law firm in California. Adams came to Nevada just four years ago (the rule not the exception in the fastest-growing state in the country) and served as chairman of the state's Veterans for Bush group in 2004.
Following that election the job of state party chairman was seen as something less than a political plum. "I had a lot of people say 'You don't want to get involved in this,'" recounts Adams. "I looked at it as a challenge."
And a challenge it has been. Hearing criticism that the state party had ignored down-ballot races in 2004, Adams huddled with the state Assembly Republicans in hopes of better coordinating their efforts. He also spent time with Sen. John Ensign (R), who is up for re-election to a second term this November, as well as Rep. Jon Porter (R), a regular Democratic target in the Nevada's 3rd U.S. House district. After those conversations he went to donors to make clear that he had a plan to keep the state party active throughout the two-year cycle as opposed to just the few months before an election. "That will work in most states but not in one where you get 5,000 new people a month," said Adams.
That strategy has delivered mixed results -- at best.
On the candidate recruitment front, Adams admits that his efforts have been complicated by two surprise retirements. The first came in mid-March when state Attorney General George Chanos, who has been appointed to the position by Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn, shocked the political world by announcing he would not seek a full term. That move left the party in a lurch and no top-tier candidate stepped forward, leaving former prosecutor Catherine Cortez Masto (D) as the heavy favorite in the fall.
Then just days before the May 12 filing deadline Clark County Sheriff Bill Young (R) decided not to run again despite having a war chest of more than $900,000 and no significant opposition. According to Jon Ralston, Nevada's leading political reporter, 14 of the 26 Democrats in the state Assembly face no opposition and several others have only token opposition. Ralston notes, however, that the blame should not fall entirely on Adams' shoulders as the GOP leaders in the state Assembly did little to help.
The party has also struggled to raise money -- perhaps because Adams did not come into the job with the political connections that most state party chairmen enjoy. In 2005 the state party raised just $50,000 and spent $56,000. Contrast that with the more than $900,000 raised by the state Democrats.
Adams' chance at redemption this November is tied closely to his daily campaign against Reid. Reid has been heavily involved in the recruitment of Democratic candidates for three offices: attorney general, secretary of state and the 3rd district U.S. House seat. Reid is behind Cortez Masto for AG, Ross Miller -- the son of former Gov. Bob Miller -- for secretary of state and former staffer Tessa Hafen for the 3rd district.
"He's got three candidates, none of whom are qualified for office," said Adams. The online onslaught, Adams hopes, will make it more difficult for Reid to serve as a validator of those candidates in the minds of voters. The message boiled down? "Harry Reid is not who you think he is," said Adams. "Look at his track record, look at what he's said, don't just blindly support [him]."
Should Adams run the table against Reid's chosen candidates, his first two years would likely be seen as a success despite the setbacks. But should Reid help Democrats win all three races, Adams' days as chairman may be numbered.
June 26, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: Insider Interview
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