Political Memo:

Americans for Prosperity’s political influence lacks strength in primary

Sun, Jun 17, 2012 (2 a.m.)

If the conservative nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity is poised to be a serious player in the turnout game for Republican candidates this November, it didn’t prove itself in the primary election last week.

With thousands of activist members, deep-pocketed donors and an organizing capacity for identifying voters and getting them to the polls, the group’s Nevada chapter has been positioning itself to be a force in November.

Nationally, the Koch brothers-funded organization has been credited with playing an instrumental role in the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. For decades, the billionaire industrialists have been funding think tanks, political nonprofits and campaigns to fight environmental regulations, promote free enterprise and, perhaps most importantly, lower taxes.

AFP has been one of their more successful political ventures.

But, to date, AFP Nevada’s performance hasn’t been quite so stellar.

AFP Nevada’s first effort to swing an election through traditional get-out-the-vote activities failed — badly. And it played out in, of all places, Laughlin, where voters were deciding whether to support cityhood. The tone of AFP Nevada’s campaign in Laughlin suggested it favored incorporation.

In the run up to the vote, AFP Nevada conducted phone calls, held a get-out-the-vote barbecue and even held its election night watch party in the town it had hoped would become a city.

Click to enlarge photo

A view of Laughlin from the Arizona side of the Colorado River Wednesday, April 24, 2003.

But of the 1,691 people who actually went to the polls, only 729 voted to incorporate.

After the loss, AFP Nevada’s leadership claimed the group was simply engaging the community in a conversation and not taking a side. The organization’s campaign material seems to dispute that assertion.

But Adam Stryker, director of AFP Nevada, said the vote came down to the fact that the other side had a simpler message.

AFP Nevada losing a small, low-turnout campaign — against which there was little organized opposition aside from one town father flying an airplane with a banner urging a no vote — doesn’t portend well for the general election.

Also in the primary, AFP Nevada made the somewhat strange decision to fund mailers opposing Democratic Assemblyman Kelvin Atkinson’s bid for the state Senate. Atkinson is known as a fairly liberal Democrat who has sided with tax increases and protecting public employee pay and benefits.

But his race was in no way competitive, giving the impression that AFP was simply throwing dollars at a politician it didn’t like for the sake of throwing dollars at him.

Click to enlarge photo

Nevada Senate Democrats Allison Copening and John Lee talk on the Senate floor late Monday night, June 6, 2011, at the Legislature in Carson City.

Instead, the resources, perhaps, could have been better spent in a competitive race such as conservative Democrat John Lee’s. He lost in an upset primary by the liberal flank of his party.

Some questioned the decision of AFP to involve itself in the Laughlin incorporation fight at all.

“What the heck is anti-government AFP doing trying to create another level of government?” one conservative operative asked. “The better question: Why would the Koch brothers care if Laughlin went from a town to a city?”

That decision may have been relationship based. Paul and Sue Lowden, who own the Pioneer casino in Laughlin, are close with at least one of the principals in AFP Nevada. They firmly supported incorporation and contributed money to AFP to help push it through.

Stryker also said it was government efficiency.

“I’d say the best type of government is a localized, limited government of the people, by the people and for the people,” Stryker said. “Frankly, the residents of Laughlin driving 100 miles both ways to get a pothole repaired seems inefficient.”

As for Atkinson, Stryker said election time is a better time to make a point than during the legislative session.

“We want people to think twice about advocating for principles opposite of ours,” Stryker said. “We’re not individuals who are just going to show up and scream ‘no’ all time. We will take action.”

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