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Lowden, Hutchison spice up election


I’m writing a column about the Republican primary race for lieutenant governor.

Still with me?

Hey, just checking.

Because whether you’re paying attention is perhaps the most pertinent question strategists for candidates Mark Hutchison and Sue Lowden must answer as they sharpen the knives heading into the start of early voting Saturday.

(It also says something about the status of Campaign 2014 that the closest thing to nail-biting drama is found in the race for the political equivalent of Cal Ripken’s backup shortstop. But you take your story lines where you find them.)

If you’re following the plot of the Lowden-Hutchison dust-up, you know it’s been the tale of the chosen one (Hutchison) against the sharp-tongued conservative (Lowden.) Hutchison has been chided mercilessly by his opponent for failing to participate in enough debates.

Given his mixed performances, it’s not hard to see why he’s been shy. It was in their final debate last week on Sam Shad’s “Nevada Newsmakers” show that Hutchison managed to hand Lowden grist for a withering sock to the solar plexus before the start of early voting.

Lowden, with fewer dollars in her campaign coffers and inferior numbers in the latest poll floating around the race, tried to call out Hutchison by repeatedly accusing him of being a “personal injury attorney.” Rather than shrugging it off or minimizing his response, an agitated Hutchison swallowed the bait like a hungry trout.

“I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but not a personal injury lawyer,” Hutchison said. “I’m not a personal injury lawyer.”

But as has been widely reported, the Hutchison &Steffen firm handles some personal injury cases and advertises the fact on its website. To wit: “The Firm has extensive experience in litigating major personal injury actions to successful conclusions.”

Oops.

The guy’s lucky he has a hefty fundraising advantage. Hutchison might need it in the next few days to patch his painful miscue.

Why didn’t Hutchison brush aside the attempt to draw him out? Why didn’t he simply answer that his firm represents a variety of clients in a wide array of legal matters?

Lowden surely hopes her opponent’s inaccurate response raises a question of trust with voters, especially those who don’t trust personal injury lawyers. She’s spending a good portion of her campaign fund on a TV ad that she hopes will have Hutchison needing a personal injury lawyer by the end of the week.

Not surprisingly, the 30-second spot uses Hutchison’s ham-handedness against him. It’s clean and effective. Lowden can’t seem to help adding a playful smirk at the end.

Campaign manager Tom Letizia and the rest of Lowden’s team clearly believe the gift they’ve been handed can be a turning point in the sprint to the June 10 primary election. A scheduled $40,000 advertising buy on local TV news broadcasts was bumped to $70,000 with help from the candidate and her husband, casino man Paul Lowden. The spot is due to start today.

Hutchison has hammered Lowden on the issue of previous campaign debts. She’s returned fire by accusing him of being a closet Obamacare lover. It’s not just about destroying each other’s character. It’s about raising the issue of trust in the voters’ minds.

Whether it makes a big difference largely depends on whether voters are paying much attention. With a light primary turnout in the high teens typical, and even a 25-percent turnout hardly worth shouting about, a little erosion could go along way.

If Hutchison prevails, it won’t be because he’s displayed the sort of acumen one expects from a seasoned candidate and experienced lawyer. It will be because he has money and is basking in the warm glow of the endorsement of a popular governor — and the fact not many voters lose sleep over the lieutenant governor’s race.

The veteran attorney, whose firm really does represent personal injury cases, managed to get taught a lesson in the law of politics by Lowden last week.

It’s unclear whether Hutchison will learn from it, but it’s certain he won’t hear the end of it for the next week.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.