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April 25, 2014

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jon ralston:

Scent of fear in the air for Republicans

“There’s something happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear …”

— Stephen Stills, 1967

You see Utah’s Bob Bennett, who had a few moments of apostasy in the congregation’s eyes and dared to bow at the altar of bipartisanship, and he is brutally excommunicated.

You see Arizona’s John McCain, who couldn’t please the faithful as a presidential nominee and now is campaigning as a Joe Arpaio disciple, and he may be the next to be expelled from the Church of the Conservatives.

And, closer to home, you see Sue Lowden and Brian Sandoval, who are desperately trying to preach the right gospel and make the parishioners sing along, and yet they are getting crushed in straw poll after straw poll.

For what it’s worth, the moderate-cleansing in the Republican Party in these days of tea and poses could pay off in the short run for the candidates who can deliver the best conservative sermons and fool some of the small electoral universe on June 8. But four weeks before voters who don’t cast ballots early go to the polls, you can almost smell it in the air in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial primaries — the scent of uncertainty, even of fear.

There’s something happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Yes, Utah is not Nevada — Bennett lost in some goofy process the ever-active Club for Growth was able to control with its money. Arizona is not Nevada — McCain faces J.D. Hayworth, who is better known than any of the Nevada candidates and has a political base. But Republican primary voters are not so dissimilar from state to state, with those living along routes another great songwriter, Lowell George, once wrote about — “Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonapah” — mad as hell at anyone tainted by the Establishment or incumbency or, most of all, anyone not willing to hew to the orthodoxy they demand.

Survey results I obtained Tuesday, albeit conducted by a Democratic pollster and ones that go counter to previous public polls (but not some private ones), seem to indicate even without taking the GOP’s temperature that the fever is raging here, too. Lowden losing to Harry Reid for the first time by 5 percentage points (42-37). Danny Tarkanian doing better than Lowden, tied with Reid (37-37). Rory Reid within striking distance of Sandoval in the governor’s race (46-41).

Those numbers don’t comport with other surveys showing Lowden and Sandoval with large leads over the Reids. But the point here is the volatility of the electorate, the volcanic bursts of anger, the intolerance for exaggerated flaws.

There’s something happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Look at the straw poll results, too. Yes, tiny samples, but two recent ones conducted by the Douglas County GOP and the Action is Brewing Tea Party group show Lowden and Sandoval as also-rans. Gov. Jim Gibbons and Sharron Angle are the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate favorites, respectively, and even ex-North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon is more popular with the core than Sandoval, whose moderate past has come back to haunt him.

If I were Lowden and Sandoval, I’d think of another line from that Stills classic: “Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep.”

How can they not be looking in the rearview mirror considering the relatively low turnout expected June 8 and the toxic atmosphere for anyone who even smells like an incumbent? Let’s face it: Sandoval seems even more like an anointed elected official than the incumbent governor. And even though Lowden is laughably now trying to cast off the Establishment mantle Little Tark so smartly tarred her with months ago, it’s sewn into the fabric of who she is.

So in both races, you see these candidates trying to avoid the fate that befell Bennett and that could afflict McCain. Suddenly, Lowden, in a new ad, claims she has “fought all my life” for smaller government, a claim so risible the commercial should have a laugh track. And Tarkanian has simply been declaring himself the most conservative candidate in the race, “endorsed” by conservatives, when the evidence of such is minuscule. And while Gov. No New Taxes wears the conservative mask well, he has raised taxes and fees, even though he hopes no one has noticed. And Sandoval, a moderate for years, is having a difficult time convincing anyone that he is the guy who will never raises taxes, who has a reasonable suspicion that Arizona’s law is A-OK and who does not think illegals should be allowed to drive.

Who are these people? And a better question: Who will vote June 8?

To both queries, I say: There’s something happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.

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