Just in time for Valentine’s Day weekend, Sue Lowden finally is getting some love from the Nevada Democratic Party — albeit tough love.
Back in 2010, the former state senator was targeted, tracked and trashed by Harry Reid’s party machine during the Republican U.S. Senate primary campaign because Lowden had the best chance of beating the majority leader in a general election matchup. The ceaseless attacks, which put Lowden on defense against Democratic messaging and her primary rivals, helped Sharron Angle, the Republican who had the worst chance of beating Reid, defeat Lowden. Reid’s re-election was made that much easier.
Today, Lowden is running for lieutenant governor and is the underdog to state Sen. Mark Hutchison of Las Vegas in the GOP primary. And once again, the attacks are coming from the Democratic Party via email, social media and even the famous chicken suit that became one of the signature images of Lowden’s primary bust four years ago.
Although this operation is lobbing bombs at both Republicans, the primary target this time is Hutchison, not Lowden.
But it’s not a sign of newfound affection for Lowden. Hutchison has the backing of Gov. Brian Sandoval and the party establishment, he’s raising big money, and he would be the favorite in a general election matchup with the presumptive Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Assemblywoman Lucy Flores of Las Vegas. It’s obvious that the Democratic Party considers Lowden the weaker candidate (thanks to the lingering bruises from 2010, no doubt), the one Flores has a good chance of beating.
Here are some of the subject lines on emails sent by the party over the past couple of weeks:
— “Famous NV Dems Chicken Asks Hutchison “Who’s the Real Chicken, Mark?”
— “More trouble for Hutch”
— “For a criminal defense attorney, Mark Hutchison can’t seem to keep his story straight”
From the party’s Twitter account, @nvdems, with references to Hutchison’s handle, @Hutch4Nevada:
— “If you look at some of @Hutch4Nevada’s past law clients, it’s clear that doing what helps Mark Hutchison is far more important to him than doing what’s right for Nevada.”
— “@Hutch4Nevada sends out Friday news dump to try to change the subject from ethics-ACA hypocrisy-debate cowardice. Clearly panicking”
The party tweeted suggested questions for this month’s debate between Lowden and Hutchison in Elko:
— “@Hutch4Nevada Question 1- how many houses do you own?”
— “@SueLowden Question 6 - You released a tv ad exposing #Hutch4Nevada’s hypocrisy on #ACA. Can you elaborate on this?”
— “@Hutch4Nevada Question 7 - As a criminal defense attorney – have you defended any clients you now regret representing?”
Early voting in the low-turnout primary starts in about three months. Nevada Democrats are ruthlessly effective at preventing primary challenges to their hand-picked candidates and incumbents, giving the party operation plenty of time and money to make things harder on Republicans in the spring. And because Democrats aren’t going to challenge Sandoval this year, they can work even harder on other campaigns.
As most observers of Nevada politics know, this year’s lieutenant governor’s race is hugely important, even if the office itself is not. Although Sandoval has insisted he is not looking beyond his cakewalk re-election campaign, he’s widely identified as someone who could challenge Reid in 2016 or join a Republican administration should the party take the White House in two years. But Sandoval is not going to leave office mid-term if a Democrat wins the lieutenant governor’s race and is first in line to replace him.
Thus, electing Flores would offer the unpopular Reid some protection from the popular Sandoval, not to mention keep another GOP rising star, Hutchison, out of statewide office for at least four more years.
Whether these attacks on Hutchison turn into a larger campaign with ad buys and full-fledged stalking remains to be seen. But it certainly seems like the Democratic Party is getting ready for some serious blasting. Such a strategy would have Reid’s DNA all over it.
The irony here is that Hutchison is exactly the kind of Republican that Democrats claim to want more of: someone who works across the aisle, someone who doesn’t launch personal attacks on the other side, someone who’s willing to reconsider positions. And the slams on Hutchison for building a successful law practice are amusing considering Flores is also an attorney.
If nothing else, the attacks on Hutchison reveal what kind of general election campaign Flores and the Democrats are likely to wage against him, should he defeat Lowden. They’ll try to contrast life stories, defining Hutchison as rich elitist who doesn’t relate to middle-class struggles (party news releases already emphasize Hutchison’s “six homes in four different states”) while emphasizing Flores’ rise from teenage gang member to law school graduate and elected office.
Lowden certainly won’t mind getting an assist from Democrats in her run against Hutchison. But should she somehow win her June primary, this romance will turn ugly awfully fast.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Resuming Feb. 24, listen to him Mondays on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.