In politics, if you’re explaining…

If hotelier Sue Lowden’s greatest political liability in the 2010 campaign for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination was refusing to back away from her bartering for health care reform (i.e. “chickens for checkups”), the millstone around her neck in the 2014 campaign for lieutenant governor may be the debt incurred four years ago.

And judging from an email she sent to supporters this morning, she knows it, too. With the subject line, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” Lowden blasts the campaign of her top Republican foe, state Sen. Mark Hutchison, for remarks his campaign has made about her old — and thus far unpaid — campaign debt.

It’s a serious issue, too. Lowden is a well-off businesswoman, who with her husband runs a Laughlin casino, and at one time owned several different Las Vegas properties. When news surfaced that she was being sued by unpaid vendors who’d worked on her 2010 effort, even as she was putting her own money into her new bid for lieutenant governor, a perfect campaign meme emerged.

And it’s sinking in. Hutchison says he gets asked about Lowden’s unpaid bills on the campaign trail. I’ve even had people come up to me to talk politics, and say they think Lowden should simply retire the debts of her 2010 campaign. (The fact is, as she says in her e-mail, that she’s got a settlement plan for some of the money before the Federal Elections Commission awaiting approval. But there are also debts she’s fighting in court.)

But Lowden’s campaign backers know all too well the old maxim in politics: If you’re explaining, you’re losing. And she’s doing a lot of explaining in her email.

“I had been repaying campaign debt from that 2010 race for three years until advised in January by my attorneys to stop making those payments until our debt settlement plan is approved by the FEC. Once the FEC gives us the green light, I will continue to make payments,” she writes.

Most regular folk won’t be able to relate. Oh, sure, they can relate to facing a mountain of debt and making payments on it. Some might even be able to relate to having to hire attorneys or declaring bankruptcy (a fate that doesn’t appear to be in the cards for Lowden). But none will be sympathetic to the idea that these debts were incurred in a bid to become a U.S. senator, or that they could go away with a single signature on a check. That’s the part that hurts her here.

“I absolutely, positively did NOT “pay myself” the $2 million dollars I loaned my campaign in 2010. I ate it. It was written off. After the election that loan became, in essence, a contribution. I will never see a dime of that $2 million loan. It’s gone,” she writes.

Again, few will shed tears for Lowden here, but certainly they will ask more questions: She can afford to loan her own campaign $2 million, but is disputing around $300,000 in court? Again, these are not expenses most people will ever face, say for a short sale on a home, an unexpected medical bill or a small business that went bankrupt. It’s for a seat in the most exclusive club in the world. And she’s putting six figures into a new bid for a much-less exclusive seat in public office.

“I haven’t ‘stiffed’ anybody, nor have I ‘refused to pay’ any vendor other than the two which have been disputed and litigated. One of those bills has already been dismissed and the other is still working its way through the courts.”

So, she has stiffed two people and refused to pay them, then? It’s entirely possible that Lowden will win in court, and that the vendors who are suing her will get nothing. (It’s more likely a settlement will be reached, perhaps not until after the all-important June 10 primary.) But you can’t say, or at least you shouldn’t say, you haven’t refused to pay anybody except for the two people who you’ve refused to pay.

The email also includes a brief transcript of an Alan Stock radio interview — a show upon which Hutchison refused to join her for a live debate — which is necessary to explain her repeated remark that “nobody is complaining” about not being paid. Of course, a lawsuit is by definition a form of complaint, so we know 2010 campaign vendors are complaining. But Lowden insists that other vendors who’ve settled with her for less than the full bill aren’t complaining about getting some, but not all, of what they’re owed.

Even interpreting the facts of this case in the light most favorable to Lowden — she’s legitimately disputing improper billings from her 2010 campaign through the correct legal channels, and will pay the obligations a neutral arbiter determines she owes — there’s still no political upside for Lowden here. By explaining the situation at length, it’s clear the Lowden campaign realizes this. But the explanation doesn’t resolve the issue; it simply reinforces the idea that Lowden could resolve the matter overnight, but instead is choosing to spend money on a new bid for office. That’s going to hurt her with some voters, no matter the explanation.