Las Vegas Sun

July 22, 2014

Currently: 98° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

ANALYSIS:

What’s behind Sue Lowden pelting?

Although Harry Reid professes his indifference to whom his November opponent will be, his continued barrage against one of three primary front-runners has some thinking otherwise.

Image

Andrew DeGraff / Special to the Sun

Sun Coverage

Sue Lowden

Sue Lowden

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Danny Tarkanian

Danny Tarkanian

In politics, candidates can tell they’re gaining traction when their opponents start attacking them.

Sue Lowden, for example, has hammered Sharron Angle in recent weeks, coinciding with polls showing the Tea Party Express-endorsed candidate pulling even with the former front-runner in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.

It may be telling then that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his allies continue to attack Lowden, while leaving untouched the mistakes and records of the surging Angle and Danny Tarkanian, the other potential victor in Tuesday’s primary.

At the same time, they have tried to make the case that they have no preference in who wins.

“They all scare me,” Reid has said of Angle, Lowden and Tarkanian.

On Tuesday, he told the Reno Gazette-Journal, “I don’t vote Republican so I haven’t studied up” on the candidates.

His campaign and the Nevada Democratic Party say Lowden, once the clear front-runner against Reid and her GOP opponents, is so damaged that they no longer have a preference.

But those assertions don’t jibe with Reid’s continued attacks on Lowden, even as she has been embattled over her observation that people used to barter using chickens with doctors and problems with her reporting of a bus that was donated to her campaign.

The Reid re-election machine’s continued focus on the former GOP chairwoman has given the Lowden campaign ammunition as it argues Reid believes she’s the most formidable Republican.

Robert Uithoven, campaign manager for Lowden, said Democrats’ claims of neutrality in the Republican primary are “completely inconsistent with (Reid’s) actions and those of his political allies.”

Reid is trying to backpedal because Lowden has used his attacks to boost her campaign, he said.

“They haven’t been neutral all along,” Uithoven said. “They realized a little accidental honesty has been hurting them, by making the case Sue Lowden was the candidate he feared. So now he has a new set of talking points they’re rushing out there.”

Because Reid is a known entity who is viewed unfavorably by more voters than not, according to polls, his clearest, perhaps only path, to victory is to raise the public’s negative opinions of his opponent.

Who, among Lowden, Angle and Tarkanian, is least susceptible to such attacks? Based on the target of Reid and his allies, it appears they still think Lowden represents the toughest challenger.

Eighteen of the Reid campaign’s 20 most recent news releases, dating to April, focus on Lowden’s missteps — noting everything from her apparently unprepared-for appearance on “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” to her being stood up at a planned beer summit with occasional supporter Reno Mayor Bob Cashell.

Reid’s official Twitter account and those of his numerous campaign staffers routinely point to negative stories about Lowden (Federal Election Commission complaints, Politico labeling her campaign among the worst of the year) and make frequent references to chickens.

The Nevada State Democratic Party, which seems to operate as a de facto arm of the Reid campaign, has continued to file complaints with the FEC over questionable campaign contributions and expenditures by Lowden, but hasn’t commented on charges that Angle underpaid for flights on a private plane.

On Wednesday, an independent group run by a former Reid staffer began airing a television ad directed at Republican voters. The ad by the Patriot Majority PAC hits Lowden’s record in the state Senate — for raising taxes and supporting a $100 fee for noncombat veterans to be buried in the state’s veterans cemeteries.

Reid’s campaign and its allies see it differently.

Asked why the campaign has focused on Lowden, Reid spokesman Jon Summers said, “She’s provided us the most material.”

Summers added that he thinks Angle would be just as formidable a challenger.

Phoebe Sweet, Nevada State Democratic Party spokeswoman, said the party has focused on Lowden because she has attacked Reid.

“Sue Lowden went up with negative ads, filled with lies and distortion, very early on,” Sweet said. “We pushed back against Sue Lowden for that reason.”

Sweet maintained that “all three (GOP front-runners) are not without problems.”

The Reid team’s motives and strategy, however, can be read in a number of ways — usually depending on whom you support in the race.

Jerry Stacy, spokesman for Angle, suggested that Reid’s attacks on Lowden could be aimed at bolstering her candidacy because the campaign truly fears Angle.

“He’s a crafty chess player,” he said of Reid. “He’s always two or three moves ahead.”

Stacy said straw polls show Angle has defeated Lowden in debates, even in Clark County, where Lowden lives.

“Sue Lowden can’t even win a debate. I don’t think she can beat Harry Reid,” he said. “Sue Lowden’s campaign has self-destructed on its very own. I don’t think Harry Reid would be concerned about running against Sue Lowden at all.”

For most of the campaign, Lowden has polled as the strongest candidate against Reid. She certainly had the backing of most of the Republican establishment.

Although polls also showed Angle and Tarkanian could defeat Reid, neither’s record was dissected as Lowden’s was. A Reid staffer followed Lowden, capturing video of her speeches. State Democrats bought a chicken costume for volunteers to wear at Lowden events.

Click to enlarge photo

A man in a chicken costume pickets before a UNLV College Republicans event at UNLV on Tuesday, April 20, 2010. The protest was in reference to U.S. Senate candidate Sue Lowden's suggestion that patients barter with their doctors for health care. The College Republicans endorsed Lowden at the event.

When Tarkanian or Angle was attacked, it was in passing and lumped together with others in the GOP field, such as in their universal opposition to the new health care law.

Lowden is far more damaged a candidate than she was at the beginning of the race.

But Reid’s campaign may have celebrated her stumbles a bit prematurely. On May 24, Politico portrayed anonymous Reid advisers as being jubilant over Angle’s surge and Lowden’s fall.

“She’s a female Rand Paul,” a Reid adviser said of Angle, comparing her to the Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate and fellow Tea Party favorite whose stock fell when he said he didn’t support the Civil Rights Act. “We’re going to show everyone what she stands for, and then we’ll see what happens.”

Since then, Reid and his allies have gone out of their way to argue that Reid is vulnerable to all three Republican front-runners.

A recent Nevada Democratic Party news release noted that a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll showed Reid could lose to Tarkanian, Angle or Lowden, while the headline over the newspaper’s story declared Lowden as Republicans’ best chance of defeating Reid in November.

The party’s news release said the newspaper “has attempted to spin their latest poll to show Sue Lowden as the ticket to Republican victory in November — nevermind that every other report on the poll shows all three front-runners within the margin of error” of defeating Reid.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy