Nev. Senate: Lowden reflects on campaign missteps
Updated: 3:57 p.m.
By Paul Kane
LAS VEGAS -- This was supposed to be coronation day for Sue Lowden, collecting her first crown since winning the Miss New Jersey beauty pageant in 1973.
As a former state senator and state Republican Party chairwoman, Lowden entered the GOP primary for the right to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) as a prohibitive favorite. Less than four months ago Lowden had a lead of 18 percentage points over her next closest competitor, businessman Danny Tarkanian, and almost 40 points ahead of former state legislator Sharron Angle. She was even above the magic 50-percent threshold in a head-to-head match-up against Reid, defeating him by 13 percentage points.
By Monday night, in a Mexican restaurant on the western end of town, Lowden was openly reflecting where things went so wrong. In her take, her campaign wasn't prepared to be the center of political attention, taking hits from the right and the left.
"It's hard retrospectively, you know, I'm not going to second-guess it right now. That needs a week or two to sit back and reflect what we could have perhaps done to better prepare for all the money that was used in the primary against me," Lowden said.
Several of Lowden's supporters brought up the suggestion she aired at a town hall meeting in April -- that people might barter for their health care, as they did years ago with chickens -- as an example of an unforced error. But Lowden and her supporters did not say that the stumble was fatal to her campaign. Rather, they said, the more costly weakness was the campaign's lack of preparation to defend against attacks from both sides of the political debate.
Now, as voters go to the polls Tuesday, Lowden has been surpassed by Angle's political surge. By the middle of last week, the "tea party" affiliated Our Country Deserves Better political action committee had spent almost $500,000 on ads, mostly attacking Lowden as not a true conservative. The Patriot Majority PAC -- run by a former Reid staffer -- had raised more than $1 million this year, mostly from big labor unions, with its only expenditures to date going toward anti-Lowden ads.
Lowden tried to wear this as a badge of honor, proof that she was the candidate best positioned to take on Reid. "It's very clear that Harry Reid thinks that," Lowden said while mingling with supporters at her last campaign stop. "I'm going to endorse anyone who comes out of this primary, but be very clear on the fact: Harry Reid knows the poll numbers, and he's attacked me. ... There must be a reason for that," she said.
Along the way, she has given her critics ammunition to fire at her, most notably a series of interviews weeks ago in which she first suggested that people should barter for their health care, then expanding on that to talk about how poor people used to barter with chickens at their local doctor's office.
Some Reid insiders now wonder whether Lowden would have been the better candidate to run against, because she seemed so caught off guard at times by the ebb and flow of hardball campaigning. Angle is a far more dogmatic conservative whose views will be more easily targeted by the Reid machine - she supports placing high-level nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, not far from Las Vegas - but she has been a bit more adept as a campaigner.
The result is that Lowden has watched her unfavorable ratings soar with likely Republican voters in Tuesday's primary. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Mason Dixon poll, about 30 percent of GOP voters have an unfavorable view of Lowden, almost double the amount of voters who viewed her poorly back in January. Just 20 percent hold an unfavorable view of Angle, and it's 16 percent for Tarkanian.
Over the weekend, the Review-Journal poll showed Lowden to be in no better position against Reid than the others, taking away her strongest talking point in the campaign's final days. The majority leader has seen his standing improve solely because his opponents have torn each other apart.
Even Lowden supporters were caught off guard by the steady hits. When Jeff Kahn, 66, a retired casino marketing executive, returned home Sunday night, he had five recorded phone messages on his voice mail, all of them from outside groups talking about Lowden's alleged bad positions on issues. "Sue's bad, Sue did this, Sue did that," Kahn said Monday. His wife, Enid, wore a camouflage T-shirt with the letters SWAT emblazoned on it, an acronym for Susie's Washington Attack Team.
Lowden has tried at times to capture the anger among voters, particularly among conservatives. "I'm angry, I'm one of them, I'm angry. That's why I'm running," she said.
Lowden, however, oozes political establishment. Wearing a sleeveless black dress and black heels, Lowden is far more comfortable talking about her background as a businesswoman, the foreclosure rates in Nevada's housing industry and its 13.6 percent unemployment rate, the second highest in the nation.
"I'm speaking as someone who has, from day one, talked about jobs and the economy and how to fix it, my voice as a businessperson," she said.
Instead, like many other political establishment figures this year, Lowden found an electorate that was willing to embrace the more strident upstart insurgents than the polished, attractive candidate with the right endorsements.
Which hurt more, the hits from the right or the left? "You know, that's so ... I'm not sure, I'm not sure. Clearly, when you have hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent in negative ads against you, it makes an impact at some point," Lowden said.
June 8, 2010; 12:08 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Election , 44 The Obama Presidency , Primaries , Republican Party , West
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