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October 24, 2014

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POLITICS:

Sue Lowden making last-ditch effort to swing voters her way

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Sue Lowden gives her closing statement Friday during a Republican debate in Las Vegas sponsored by conservative talk radio station KDWN.

What’s gone wrong

In addition to Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden’s well-publicized remarks about bartering with doctors for health care, she has also been accused of accepting an illegal campaign contribution in the form of a luxury RV she uses to tour the state. Most recently, she accused a KNPR radio interviewer of being a conduit for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s opposition researchers, and she hung up on a Politico reporter (though her campaign said she was late for a rally). Polls have showed GOP opponents Sharron Angle and Danny Tarkanian gaining on Lowden, who was long considered a lock to face Reid.

ON TV

  • Sue Lowden will join Jon Ralston on "Face to Face" at 6:30 p.m. tonight on KVBC Channel 3.
Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Lowden on health care bartering

Sun Coverage

Facing plummeting poll numbers and a relentless onslaught from the left and the right, Republican Sue Lowden is amplifying an old message to boost her fumbling campaign for U.S. Senate: Harry Reid is afraid of me.

Lowden’s campaign has tried to argue for months that Reid’s ceaseless attacks against her were part of a campaign to eliminate the candidate he sees as the most potent threat in a general election. The attacks, compounded by Lowden’s own gaffes, have taken their toll.

Once considered the front-runner, Lowden is now in a tight three-way race with Danny Tarkanian and Sharron Angle, a former state assemblywoman whose political fortunes have risen with endorsements from the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth. The conservative groups are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into ads that boost Angle and rip Lowden.

Ironically, Reid’s campaign provided Lowden an opening this week, all but confirming to Politico its intentions to shape the Republican field. “Things are finally starting to go our way,” a Reid adviser told the Washington publication. “He’s coming back.”

Robert Uithoven, Lowden’s campaign manager, seized on the report, accusing Reid of meddling in the primary and undercutting Angle’s support from outside groups.

“We understand that the race is different with all of the out-of-state money coming in and Harry Reid trying to handpick his opponent, and we’re trying to explain to people what they are seeing,” he said. “If you don’t want to hear the champagne bottles uncork early in Washington, voters have to make the right choice in June.”

The argument is a sort of last-ditch effort to win over Republican voters with early voting in full swing. To be sure, this was not the campaign Lowden expected.

“It was all so promising a month ago,” said Eric Herzik, a UNR political scientist, laughing.

Indeed, Lowden enjoyed robust, double-digit leads in most polls and beat Reid outright in head-to-head matchups. Then came Chickengate.

At a town-hall meeting in April, Lowden encouraged people to pay cash for health care and to barter with their doctors. A Reid researcher captured the moment on tape and the gaffe quickly made its way into Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” monologue. Lowden, however, defended the comments, inadvertently providing a punch line to the controversy: “In the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor.”

The remarks went viral, spread through withering blog posts and YouTube videos. Weeks passed before she walked the comments back, saying they were never meant as a policy proposal.

The Lowden campaign faced another distraction when the candidate’s name wound up on the title of a supporter’s luxury RV, which Lowden uses to tour the state; Democrats claimed it amounted to an illegal contribution. Her name was taken off the title, but the whole episode again threw Lowden off message.

David Damore, a UNLV political scientist, accused Lowden’s advisers of “campaign malpractice.”

“If you step in it, you have to fix it,” he said. “They seem to wallow in it.”

Even some of Lowden’s supporters openly worry about the direction of her campaign. Conservative activist Chuck Muth said the campaign had been lulled into a false sense of security early in the season by healthy leads in the polls.

“All of the sudden they had a campaign on their hands and they were caught flatfooted,” he said. “This was a campaign that was running like clockwork and all of a sudden the wheels came off the apple cart. It was night and day. We’ll see if they’ve gotten their act together in the last two-week sprint.”

Cool and confident early in the campaign, the home-stretch pressure appears to be getting to Lowden as she tries to push the message that Reid is an out-of-touch Washington elite who has failed to address Nevada’s record unemployment.

Last week she became combative during a KNPR radio interview, accusing the host of being a conduit for Reid’s opposition researchers. The station later posted its original research online. This week she hung up on a Politico reporter. (The campaign said Lowden was late for a rally and had to go.)

Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Lowden seems to be caught in a vortex of bad press.

“When a candidate has a bad day or couple of weeks, it seems that nothing the campaign does can right the ship. It’s like there is some gravitational force that just keeps pulling the campaign down,” she said in an e-mail. “This has got to be the way Lowden is feeling right now. No matter what they try, the campaign hasn’t been able to change the subject or move beyond chickens and buses.”

The campaign was dealt another blow last week when Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, a prominent Lowden supporter, voiced concerns about the candidate’s campaign, dubbing Lowden “Suicidal Sue.” Making matters worse, Cashell was a no-show at a photo opportunity at a Reno bar on Monday intended, in part, to show his continued support for Lowden.

Reid’s campaign is using the stumbles to further the narrative that Lowden is “not ready for prime time.”

While Lowden’s backers still think she represents the best chance to oust Reid in November, some are concerned the damage has turned off GOP voters.

“There are a certain number of voters who want to be with a winner,” Muth said. “And once that air of inevitability goes away, once it’s competitive, they start taking another look at another candidate. The key for Lowden is to get those voters back.”

While attacking Angle, Lowden’s campaign is now focused on turning out voters. Uithoven said the campaign has run an aggressive voter ID program over the past six months, a key part of its strategy. Canvassers and volunteers have gone door-to-door and placed repeated calls to supporters, making sure they’re still on board.

“It comes down to simple math,” Uithoven said. “We’ve got a system set up and we’ve identified the people we think we need to win.”

Sun reporters J. Patrick Coolican and David McGrath Schwartz contributed to this report.

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