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September 2, 2014

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Voters don’t find much to get excited about on the Republican Senate ballot

Image

Chris Morris/Special to the Sun

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Danny Tarkanian

Danny Tarkanian

Sue Lowden

Sue Lowden

Sun Coverage

Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s primary face a staunchly conservative electorate, united by a desire to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but dissatisfied with the quality of the leading GOP contenders, according to interviews at polling places by Las Vegas Sun reporters in the final days of early voting.

Voters’ attitudes reflected recent public opinion polling, showing former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle breaking away from what had been a tight three-way race. The Sun interviewed 54 Republicans at three early voting sites across Southern Nevada and one in Carson City. Nearly half said they cast ballots for Angle, with the remainder split between Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian.

Motivated by the sour economy, illegal immigration and government spending, voters expressed deep antipathy toward incumbents and the Obama administration, describing a deep disconnect between Washington and the American public.

Jeff Colman, a 59-year-old retired stage manager, said Congress is out of touch with the reality of the country’s problems.

“I’d like to see a total cleaning of the house,” he said. “There’s too much self-serving and too many deals being made. They act like they are beholden to Washington, not to the people they represent. I think the American public will start raising its head and the silent majority will finally be heard.”

Patricia Sutton, a 59-year-old retired auditor, was a lifelong Democrat and former Reid supporter before switching parties this year to vote in the primary. “Being re-elected is more important to them than what’s going on, not just in our state but the country,” she said.

The beneficiary of their anger: Angle.

Reflecting the fluid nature of the race — and revealing a troubling trend for Lowden — many Republicans interviewed by the Sun seemed to feed off Angle’s momentum, defecting from Lowden’s corner because of the one-time front-runner’s gaffes and her apparent failure to stem the damage.

Roy and Emily Mule said they were supporting Lowden until the candidate stumbled under criticism, after suggesting that bartering with doctors was an effective way to reduce health care costs. “She opens her mouth and says things that make you wonder where they’re coming from,” Roy Mule said. “If you’re not smart enough to know what the opposition is going to do with that, then you’re probably not smart enough to be a U.S. senator.”

Both cast ballots for Angle. The sentiment undercuts Lowden’s central argument that she is the most competitive — and electable — candidate in a general election against Reid.

To be sure, Lowden has plenty of supporters, who passionately defended her in interviews, saying her comments had been distorted by her Republican opponents and Reid.

In a conference call with reporters Friday, Robert Uithoven, Lowden’s campaign manager, acknowledged the shifting dynamic of the race, saying a barrage of attack ads from outside groups — such as the Patriot Majority on the left and Club for Growth on the right — had cut into Lowden’s pool of supporters. He said the campaign and its volunteers were busy combating the damage through TV ads, phone calls and home visits.

“It’s a bigger challenge than it was a few weeks ago,” Uithoven said. “But we believe, given the number of people we’ve recruited, we’re able to get into those precincts and make those persuasions.”

He accused Reid of meddling in the primary, attempting to select his opponent for the general election. “If there is one promise Harry Reid has kept, it’s the one he made last year when he said he would vaporize Sue Lowden,” he said.

In another sign that Lowden has lost front-runner status, Uithoven devoted a significant portion of the conference call to attacking Angle and questioning her conservative credentials, highlighting her votes for legislative pay raises and her support for privatizing Social Security.

Tarkanian could benefit from the sniping. His supporters lamented the negative tone of the campaign, as Angle and Lowden fire back and forth.

One voter who declined to give her name said she supported Angle until Lowden ran an ad attempting to tie the former assemblywoman to Scientology. (While in the Assembly, Angle advocated the idea of using extreme massage and saunas on prisoners because she said the technique had reduced recidivism elsewhere. It’s an idea advocated by the Church of Scientology.) The voter said she cast a ballot for Tarkanian.

Tarkanian’s quick support for Arizona’s tough new anti-illegal immigration law also appears to be paying dividends.

Although Republican turnout in Clark County surpassed that of the 2006 primary, it fell short of the political wave suggested by Tea Party rallies throughout the state in the past year.

“I think Republicans kept telling themselves, ‘We’re angry, this is our year,’ but there hasn’t been that much emotional attachment to this election,” said Eric Herzik, a UNR political scientist. “You don’t see it in rallies. You don’t see it in debates. The party is fractured by 12 candidates, and none of them has captured the hearts of Republican voters.”

Herzik said the candidates had failed to articulate solutions to Nevada’s problems, instead running campaigns based on personal ideology and electability.

“Anger gets you halfway there,” he said. “To really activate a broader spectrum, you have to give them a reason to turn out. You have to say what you are for. These campaigns have been all about what they’re against.”

Indeed, voters expressed that frustration time and again, offering lukewarm appraisals of the Republican contenders. The word most often used to describe the quality of the field: OK.

Lois Tribbet, a 73-year-old telephone operator who voted for Lowden, said she found it difficult to muster enthusiasm.

“I’m in turmoil right now over who we have to work with,” she said. “Nobody’s talking about how they’re really going to fix things. Everything is so negative right now, and I don’t see anybody who’s going to really turn things around.”

Nearly all Republican voters interviewed by the Sun said Nevada and the country are on the wrong track, expressing resentment toward the federal government’s deficit spending while they must cope with the effects of the Great Recession.

“There is way too much spending going on and no one wants to balance the budget,” said Joseph Gomes, a 63-year-old computer consultant who voted for Angle. “If I didn’t balance my budget, I would lose my house.”

Karla Alltizer, 67, is an Angle supporter who was recently laid off from her administrative job at a glass factory.

“People born with silver spoons, they don’t know how hard it is, they don’t know what it’s like,” she said.

Don Iglinski, a 52-year-old retired fisherman who voted for Angle, said the Obama administration’s initiatives, including the new health care law, foster an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “People expect to get something for nothing,” he said. “I think you deserve a chance to work as hard as you can and make what you can and not expect someone to give it to you.”

Others, like Bob Garbers, said Democratic leadership is pushing the country toward socialism.

“We got our supreme leader, who’s Obama. Then we got our president, Pelosi, and vice president, Reid,” said Garbers, a retired casino worker. “We’re just like Iran. Same thing.”

Republicans were decidedly more settled on their pick for governor.

Interviews with voters confirmed public opinion polling about the governor’s race, with Gov. Jim Gibbons being crushed by former federal Judge Brian Sandoval.

When Republicans were asked why they are abandoning their incumbent governor, the answers included laughter, eye rolls and questions in reply, such as, “Do you even have to ask?”

Sun reporters Emily Richmond, Erin Dostal, Liz Benston, Kyle Hansen, David McGrath Schwartz and J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.

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