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September 21, 2014

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GOP Senate hopefuls unleash closing-time ad barrage

Sun Coverage

Chickens for checkups ad

Reagan's Last Campaign ad

Leading with Integrity ad

Tea Party for Angle ad

Reid ad - Ron Nelsen

Reid ad - Katherine Duncan

Reid ad - Linda Ellen

With less than three weeks until early voting begins, Republicans seeking to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are taking to the airwaves in a closing-time ad blitz, seeking to influence Nevada conservatives and catch the GOP front-runner, Sue Lowden, as polls show her pulling away from the pack.

At the same time, Reid is appealing to a general-election audience, and an outside group called Patriot Majority is spending $200,000 to run statewide TV ads against Lowden, highlighting the biggest gaffe of the campaign — her suggestion that bartering with doctors is an effective way to cut health care costs.

For Republicans, this moment in the campaign is the political equivalent of smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em.

“Everybody’s starting to unload,” said Eric Herzik, a UNR political scientist. “They’ve got to spend their money now. They have nothing to lose. If they are going to hold on for some last-minute push in June, the race will be over.”

Danny Tarkanian, a lawyer and Las Vegas businessman, has been the most aggressive Republican, resurrecting Ronald Reagan in radio, TV and Internet ads this week, using historical audio and video from the former president’s “last campaign,” a 1986 visit to a Las Vegas airplane hangar where he stumped against Reid.

“I don’t think the fiercely independent people of Nevada want as a senator a tax-and-spend liberal who was against a balanced-budget amendment,” Reagan says. The ads then highlight Lowden’s past donations to Reid. The attack: “Sue Lowden ... helped fund Harry Reid’s rise to power.” The footage is accompanied by a swelling score and a dramatic narrative, a treatment that will surely play well with Nevada conservatives.

Tarkanian’s campaign hopes to strike a chord by playing off Lowden’s own comments that she supported Reid decades ago because he was a “Reagan Blue Dog Democrat.”

For its part, Lowden’s campaign dismissed the attacks, saying Tarkanian was trading on Reagan’s conservative cachet.

“Danny Tarkanian runs on a lot of other people’s names,” Robert Uithoven, Lowden’s campaign manager, said of the son of the famous UNLV basketball coach.

After the bartering controversy, Lowden is rerunning the first TV ad of her campaign, a soft biographical spot playing up her immigrant roots and successful 1992 campaign against a former state Senate majority leader.

Herzik said Lowden is running a classic front-runner strategy: Stay above the fray and don’t make another mistake.

Despite leading in polls, Lowden’s camp may be feeling pressure. Attempting to influence the Republican primary, Reid has been hammering her for months, picking apart her business and political records. The assault shifted into overdrive with Lowden’s bartering comments, complete with a “Chickens for Checkups” Facebook game. Tarkanian piggybacked on the attacks, sending out video of her remarks — “Bring a chicken to the doctor” — and saying in an e-mail to supporters last week, “We simply can’t take a chance on a candidate that is unprepared.”

(After weeks of national scrutiny, Lowden walked back her health care comments last week, writing in Politico that she never intended her remarks to be a policy proposal. Her campaign notes that Lowden last year presented a health care plan, which calls for increased competition among insurance companies, insurance portability and tort reform.)

Then came ads by Patriot Majority, an independent political action committee backed by powerful labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union.

Uithoven said a new message was in the works, suggesting that the Lowden campaign would try to use Tarkanian’s “chicken” attacks against him by tracing them to their source: Reid’s campaign. “Danny Tarkanian should be careful about aligning himself with Harry Reid and his allies in a desperate attempt to win this Republican primary,” he said. “We’re prepared to share with voters who Danny is willing to align himself with.”

Other candidates are also scrambling in the final stretch. Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle is getting a last-minute boost from the Tea Party Express, which is running a series of TV and radio ads on her behalf focusing on her conservative credentials. The group announced its first wave of ad buys last week, with a price tag of $150,000.

A lackluster fundraiser, Assemblyman Chad Christensen made a play for free media this week by appearing with Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator who sponsored that state’s tough new immigration law, and calling for a special session of the Nevada Legislature to pass a similar measure. Gov. Jim Gibbons, who’s also up for re-election, rejected the request.

For his part, Reid has an eye toward the general election, reinforcing his central argument that as Senate majority leader he can deliver for Nevada like no else, well before Republicans have a nominee on June 8. Last week he unveiled three new ads, each highlighting Nevadans who will benefit from the new health care law, which a slim majority of voters here oppose.

One tells the story of a small-business owner who will get tax credits to provide insurance for his employees after seeing skyrocketing premiums. Another focuses on a woman who was denied coverage by her insurer because it classified her high blood pressure as a pre-existing condition, a loophole the new law closes. The final ad features a senior and says Medicare beneficiaries will see their drug costs drop as a result of the legislation.

Herzik said Reid is playing offense on an issue that Republicans will seek to use against him.

“Reid can’t just let the Republicans have until June 8,” he said. “He’s basically unchallenged, but he’s not giving away the media cycle to Republicans.”

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