A Nevada casino company officer, former state legislator and 1973 Miss America contestant wants to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Republican Sue Lowden of Las Vegas says she'll officially join several other Republicans seeking the chance to challenge Reid who, as Senate majority leader, is the highest ranking politician in Nevada history.
During an interview Wednesday at the Nevada State Museum, Lowden criticized what she sees as wasteful government spending on everything from health insurance reform to the Yucca Mountain Project, the site picked for disposal of the nation's nuclear waste.
"I think there is a big fear here in Nevada, across the country, but clearly here in Nevada, of a big government takeover of our lives, of our businesses," Lowden said. "I think that is going to resonate in Nevada and I think throughout the country."
It won't be easy for Lowden, 57, to wrest power from Reid, U.S. Senator since 1986.
She's in a crowded Republican field of candidates and potential candidates that includes early polling leader Danny Tarkanian of Las Vegas, former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle, state Sen. Mark Amodei, Reno attorney Chuck Kozak, former Marine Bill Parson, physician Robin Titus, investment banker John Chachas and former Florida candidate-for-office Mike Wiley.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas political science professor David Damore says the candidate emerging from the primary will have an uphill battle against Reid, who intends to raise as much as $25 million to defend his seat. Lowden's first official campaign finance report isn't due for release until Jan. 15.
There are currently about 111,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Nevada, with a total of 1.3 million voters overall.
Damore says in addition to conservatives, a successful Republican candidate would need to stitch together a coalition of seniors who are opposed to proposed Medicare changes, a strong majority of independents and some disgruntled Democrats to have a chance.
The Cook Political Report recently called Reid's re-election chances a, "toss-up." An August poll conducted for the Review-Journal showed Nevadans picking both Tarkanian and Lowden ahead of Reid.
Lowden considers herself a disenchanted former Reid supporter and thinks she can successfully tap into anti-Reid sentiment. In the 1980s she and her husband, casino owner Paul Lowden, donated $8,000 to Reid over several election cycles.
"Early on in the '80s when he was independent, we did feel that he was representing Nevada," she said.
Since then, however, Lowden says Reid has drifted too far to the left.
She cites the health insurance reform debate as an example, saying Reid is too closely aligned with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"He said he is bi-partisan and reaching across the aisle and looking at all of this, but he is really not. He is pushing through a bill that nobody wants," Lowden said.
Sincere bi-partisanship health reform, she said, would include limits on how much money juries could award victims of malpractice for pain and suffering, provisions to allow people to shop for health care across state lines, pre-tax medical savings accounts and allowances to take health insurance with them when they change jobs.
"Do we need change? Yes. Do Republicans think that we should have some change? Yes," she said.
Lowden also criticized Reid on the subject of Yucca Mountain.
Reid has long fought the proposal and won an agreement from Obama to deprive it of funding in 2011.
In his 2010 budget Obama reduced funding for Yucca Mountain to $196.8 million, the lowest amount ever, and includes language to "terminate" the project altogether.
Lowden says even that spending is too much if the project is indeed dead.
"If Yucca Mountain is in fact over, if it is a done deal, then why are we still having hearings, and why are we still having all of this money coming in from Washington to spend on Yucca Mountain," she said.
Lowden said a blog entry she wrote in December that called on Reid to negotiate benefits for Nevada in exchange for storing nuclear waste was "to challenge Sen. Reid to stop saying that Yucca Mountain was gone, that it was dead."
Former Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., says Reid's strategy on Yucca Mountain is sound.
"He has been very successful over the years, many years, of constantly reducing the appropriation on the project," said Bryan. "I think Sue Lowden is listening to the wrong crowd when she talks about negotiating benefits."
Lowden says while she was a state senator she voted in favor of a resolution against the project and testified in congress in opposition.
"I am clearly on the record being against it," she said.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.