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October 24, 2014

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LETTER FROM WASHINGTON:

Will attacks on Lowden make up ground for Reid?

Democrats have field day with GOP front-runner’s ‘bartering’ comment

Leno on Lowden

Sue Lowden

Sue Lowden

Sun Coverage

When Nevada Democrats brought a goat and four chickens to Republican Sue Lowden’s campaign office last week to mock her suggestion that the uninsured barter for health care, it said as much about the political state of affairs for Harry Reid as it did his leading opponent.

Lowden was ridiculed by Jay Leno and others for her bartering plan — goats for gallbladder surgery? — read one Democratic missive. Chickens for checkups?

Lowden’s advice for the 500,000 Nevadans without health care coverage was another poor choice of talking points from the casino owner and former one-term state lawmaker who hopes to take down the Senate majority leader in November.

After months of attacks on Reid as a Washington insider who has lost touch with ordinary Nevadans, the senator’s campaign is constructing a counternarrative that Lowden is the one who lives on another planet.

As Reid’s campaign tells it: Lowden lives in a mansion, her husband took a bonus while their casino was eliminating its employees’ 401(k) retirement plan, their business was cited for hundreds of Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations that endangered workers and she is telling patients to barter for health care.

Lowden’s announcement last week that she poured $700,000 of her own fortune into her campaign during the first three months of 2010 only fed that story line.

The attacks lobbed by Team Reid and the state Democratic Party make more evident a campaign strategy to vaporize, as it has been said, the competition.

Because Reid’s attacks have mainly targeted Lowden, it sometimes feels as though the two contenders have simply bypassed the June 8 primary in their dash to November.

Lowden must have known this was coming as she sought to distance herself from the field of Republican primary candidates, and establish herself as the front-runner. Polls show Lowden has maintained a lead over the next top Republican, Danny Tarkanian, the businessman and former UNLV basketball star.

But are the attacks working for Reid?

According to polling by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Lowden leads not only the other Republicans, but Reid as well. Reid’s numbers have not budged in months. (Reid’s camp disputes the accuracy of these polls.)

If Reid’s attacks are meant to cut down Lowden, they do not appear to be working. That said, Democrats argue that shining a bright light on Lowden’s record and philosophy will reap rewards.

Democrats say Lowden’s record reminds the Democratic base of the stark differences between the candidates, and fires up volunteers — mobilizing the base of supporters Reid needs to turn out.

Besides, Democrats are not convinced Lowden will emerge from the primary, noting that Republican Sharron Angle won the coveted Tea Party endorsement last week. Democrats would be pleased if anyone but Lowden was the nominee.

Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report in Washington, said Lowden appears to have the momentum heading into June.

Duffy notes that with eight weeks to go before the primary, voters are just beginning to tune in. She cautions against writing off Tarkanian, Angle or John Chachas, the Ely-born New York banker who is pumping his own money into the race.

But Duffy also notes that Reid appears to be counting on voters choosing him by default, “as the best of the worst” candidates. Reid has repeatedly said that with so many candidates — the secretary of state’s office says more candidates are running for the seat than in any statewide election in recent memory — he would emerge the winner.

This is not a strong position for the majority leader.

As for the goat and chickens, Duffy dismisses the stunt as not having much staying power, a product of the silly season — Washington shorthand for the antics that emerge in a campaign year.

“But,” she added, Lowden’s bartering plan “was kind of silly.”

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