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August 19, 2014

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GOP Senate primary contest takes a different Angle

Image

Leila Navidi

Sharron Angle speaks during a debate among the Republican U.S. Senate candidates on “Face to Face with Jon Ralston” at the KVBC studios in Las Vegas Tuesday, May 18, 2010.

Sue Lowden

Sue Lowden

Danny Tarkanian

Danny Tarkanian

Sun Coverage

The Republican U.S. Senate primary has shifted markedly as early voting ends today and candidates make their final pitches before Tuesday’s primary.

Sharron Angle, a former assemblywoman who was well behind the front-runners a month ago, appears suddenly poised for an upset victory.

Sue Lowden, the former Republican Party chairwoman, one-term state senator and one-time front-runner, has tried to blunt the Angle surge with a set of sharply negative ads, even as she’s had to fend off attacks from independent, out-of-state groups backing Angle, including the Club for Growth and the Tea Party Express.

Danny Tarkanian, meanwhile, hopes to slide by Angle and Lowden by staying above the fray and hustling for votes at small meet-and-greets and other events. Friday night he was to throw the first pitch at the Las Vegas 51s game at Cashman Field.

Angle was ahead in two polls released Thursday. In keeping with her strategy the past week or so, her campaign remains somewhat of a mystery, its candidate campaigning, although her whereabouts often unknown.

Lowden’s camp believes the race remains within the margin of error for polling — in other words, a tossup.

Lowden has spent significantly on an ad that attempts to tie Angle to Scientology. In the Assembly, Angle advocated the idea of using extreme massage and saunas on prisoners because she said the technique had been successful reducing recidivism elsewhere. (It’s an idea advocated by the Church of Scientology.)

Lowden’s ad features actors who appear to be convicts at a spa. In the final shot, one of the men kisses a tattoo that depicts Angle. A shrine to Tom Cruise, the noted Scientologist, also makes an appearance.

It’s not clear if the ad and a few other negative Lowden spots have been effective.

“While Lowden’s ads have been tough, they haven’t aired in a vacuum since pro-Angle groups like the Club for Growth have been on the air as well,” said Jennifer Duffy, analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Indeed, as Jamie Fisfis, a spokesman for Tarkanian, noted ruefully, the Club for Growth ads are on Fox News “about every 10 seconds.”

“As a result,” Duffy said, “it’s harder for Lowden’s message to penetrate.”

Duffy, who thinks Lowden is still the best general election opponent to Sen. Harry Reid despite her campaign’s missteps, compared Nevada with Kentucky, where Rand Paul scored an upset victory over Trey Grayson. In that race, Grayson was the establishment candidate, as Lowden is in Nevada, while Paul was the insurgent libertarian, not unlike Angle.

“It also seems that many Republicans were just not going to be moved by any argument against Paul. I suspect the same is true here,” Duffy said.

Fisfis called Lowden’s attempt to portray Angle as not conservative “a steep hill to climb.” With so many conservative endorsements and a conservative voting record in the Assembly, the attack may be seen as unfair and thereby damage Lowden’s credibility.

Angle received yet another endorsement Thursday, from FreedomWorks, a conservative group with 4,455 members in Nevada.

Jerry Stacy, spokesman for Angle, said the campaign had no intention of running ads attacking Lowden.

“She’s done a good enough job of destroying herself,” he said. “She doesn’t need our help.”

Tarkanian’s final argument is continued messaging on getting tougher on illegal immigration, along with a “respectful request for voters’ support,” Fisfis said. With so much negative advertising flooding the airwaves in the past two weeks, the Tarkanian team thinks it may win the votes of Republicans disgusted by the back-and-forth between Lowden and Angle’s supporters.

In a Research 2000 poll conducted for the liberal website DailyKos and released Thursday, Angle leads by 9 percentage points. A Suffolk University poll showed her with a 7-point lead. In both polls, Tarkanian and Lowden hover in the mid-20s. Research 2000 hasn’t always polled well in primaries recently, having badly missed — well outside the margin of error — the Democratic race for Alabama’s governor.

As for Lowden’s strategy, campaign manager Robert Uithoven said they are still waiting to make the decision on what ads to run and didn’t rule out continuing to focus on Angle and her deficiencies.

The campaign also released a positive spot about Lowden, in which she makes a closing argument that she can defeat Reid.

Uithoven said the campaign’s exit polling during early voting showed Lowden supporters turning out. He acknowledged Angle has historically done better on Election Day than in early voting.

“I think Sharron Angle is the front-runner to a lot of out-of-state interest groups and money,” Uithoven said.

Since January, Lowden’s campaign has sought to build the largest, most professional voter identification program of the candidates in the GOP primary.

So far, Uithoven said, “The winning issue for Sue Lowden is electability. We either succeed in keeping that the issue, or we don’t.”

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