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December 22, 2014

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POLITICS:

Harry Reid takes on Sue Lowden early, hoping labor is listening

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Sam Morris

Republican candidate Sue Lowden is the subject of early ads by Sen. Harry Reid that focus on her business resume.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Sun Coverage

The headline was tough and blunt: “Lowden’s Casinos a Dangerous Place to Work.”

Its origins were a little surprising — the re-election campaign of Sen. Harry Reid. Surprising because Republican Sue Lowden is widely viewed as Reid’s strongest challenger, given her attractive personal profile, her engaging life story and the fact that she’s a woman.

By attacking Lowden, Cook Political Report analyst Jennifer Duffy noted, Reid is helping her in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, where antipathy toward Reid runs so fierce that anyone on the receiving end of his attacks will win plaudits from the party’s voters.

Indeed, Robert Uithoven, Lowden’s campaign manager, welcomed the onslaught, saying it had paid dividends in donations and volunteers.

“You’d be hard pressed to find these kind of document dumps on any other candidate in this race,” Uithoven said, referring to the attacks. “It helps Republican voters see exactly who Harry Reid fears the most. They are painting a clear picture of who they don’t want to face in the general election.”

If Reid and his team had any hope of facing a different Republican in November — Danny Tarkanian, Sharron Angle, John Chachas — they would lay off Lowden. But with this broadside and several other recent attacks on her family’s casino business interests, the Senate majority leader’s team was making a statement: They believe Lowden to be the presumptive nominee and have decided to start softening her up now.

“She’s starting to establish herself as a front-runner, and that worries them,” Duffy said. “If she establishes herself in a crowded primary, then there’s some ‘there there.’ ”

With Lowden as the presumptive nominee, Reid’s team has begun the process of defining her to voters while she’s busy fending off attacks from her Republican opponents. “Might as well do it now,” Duffy said.

The attacks help Reid change the debate and deflect the criticism being leveled at him, both from Republicans in the primary and from liberal Democrats disappointed with his leadership in Washington on issues such as health care, said Eric Herzik, chairman of UNR’s political science department.

“Reid has been the primary target of everyone,” he said. “This is a way to deflect criticisms from him to the flaws in others.”

So far, Reid’s campaign has focused on Lowden’s business resume, highlighting a bonus her husband received as their casino company laid off workers and a ream of workplace safety violations at their various hotel properties over the years.

Asked to comment for this story, Reid’s campaign manager, Brandon Hall, used the opportunity to continue the attack.

“Sue Lowden has said that Nevadans should judge her qualifications for public office based on her business record,” he said in a statement. “The fact that we’re taking her advice is not because national Republicans say Lowden’s the front-runner, but because there are so many examples where she proves she’ll do anything — even break the law — to make a buck at the expense of her employees and fellow Nevadans.”

Uithoven offered a sweeping response: “Harry Reid knows very little about the private sector because he’s never worked in the private sector. He’s never created a private-sector job or made a payroll. The taxpayers have always provided the payroll for him and his staff.”

The risk for Reid’s campaign would be to use up all the ammunition now, before voters are paying close attention, Duffy added.

An operative in the Reid camp said the focus is on Lowden because she’s the only one in the race spending money. The Reid camp is content with her as the GOP nominee, the operative said, because it has the most to work with in a race against her.

He mentioned the deep antipathy toward Lowden in the labor movement because of her company’s aggressively antiunion stance, her flirtation with favoring a nuke dump at Yucca Mountain, and her opposition to the insurance company mandate to cover mammograms.

Her ability to drive turnout among labor union members “changes the whole voter profile,” he said, giving the campaign 10,000 rank-and-file members going door-to-door to bring out the Democratic base.

In fact, Herzik said the thrust of the recent attacks seemed designed to stir passions within the labor movement. “The message is: Rich Sue Lowden profited and put hardworking Nevadans at risk,” he said. “That’s aimed at union workers, and labor has really got to come out strong for Harry Reid.”

When the Reid operative was reminded that neither Yucca Mountain nor mammograms tend to be at the top of voters’ issue lists, he said political operatives are too often enamored with polling and fail to think creatively. “You create issues” with effective advertising, he said.

Uithoven said Reid revealed his campaign’s focus on Lowden in August when the senator attacked her on the mammogram issue before she was officially a candidate.

On Friday, Uithoven seemed to be asking for seconds.

“We’re more than happy to engage with Harry Reid, but it is a bit cowardly for him to hide behind his staffers,” Uithoven said. “If he has something to attack Sue Lowden on, let’s hear it from him directly.”

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