Moments into Republican U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian’s recent Review-Journal editorial board meeting, he was off and running with an intensity that gave me a slight sense of déjá vu.
The source of the feeling wasn’t mysterious. As a former sports columnist, I watched a lot of Runnin’ Rebels basketball games. I saw Tarkanian defy all the negative stereotypes that go with being a coach’s son and play point guard for highly successful UNLV teams.
He didn’t achieve success with superior speed or shooting skill. He was a leader who revealed an unwavering intensity and competitive spirit.
Political commentary is littered with sports metaphors, but in this case I believe the candidate-as-athlete imagery is a pretty obvious fit.
I’m not saying that Tarkanian will emerge from the crowded GOP primary or that his politics are better or worse than any of the others attempting to send powerhouse Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid into retirement. But no reasonable person can fail to appreciate the intense energy and desire he’s showing in pursuit of the office.
This early in the campaign, editorial board meetings are a combination of Q&A and meet-and-greet with a few hard questions thrown in to keep the columnists from nodding off. While Tarkanian seemed a little defensive on the subjects of his 0-for-2 political career and defamation litigation dust-up with a former opponent, the fact is most candidates at this stage tend to sound more like talking points tutors than original thinkers.
And while it’s very early to start drawing sharp comparisons, Tarkanian’s aggressive style made him appear more focused than his chief primary rival and the object of his nearly daily criticism, Sue Lowden.
Tarkanian has positioned himself out front on the (not original) idea to use the slated-for-termination Yucca Mountain Project as a site for reprocessing nuclear waste. Although he stopped short of endorsing it, Tarkanian said reprocessing could "create thousands of jobs" and generate millions in taxes. He said critics with safety issues are "fear-mongers."
That stance is sure to score well with rural Nevada voters, for whom Yucca isn’t something to dread but a potential boon to small-town economies and employment.
Tarkanian also focused on what he called the need to release large tracts of federal land, some of which is located near Las Vegas Boulevard, to "generate economic activity" and entice "other businesses to into the state."
Where Tarkanian seemed most aggressive, if not always accurately so, was in his criticism of Lowden. Here’s where the two candidates to date have shown very different campaign styles.
Lowden has tried to keep her sights on Reid, whom she believes will be her eventual opponent.
Tarkanian has no shortage of criticism for Reid, but he has stepped up his regular peppering of Lowden, mostly accusing her of flip-flopping on issues.
Lowden, meanwhile, has mostly relied on allies such as conservative political activist Chuck Muth to do her fighting for her. Lately, I’ve noticed, Lowden campaign manager Robert Uithoven has stepped into the ring.
During the editorial board meeting, Tarkanian took a shot at Lowden on the Yucca subject and reprocessing.
Uithoven responded: "While Danny once again attacks from his glass house, voters are starting to find out why he’s lost every campaign he’s run this decade. Being punished by the Nevada Supreme Court as a lawyer, earning an F from the NRA and being called out for lying to voters in annoying robo-calls is sure to once again turn off the voters."
Undaunted, Tarkanian has kept up the pressure like the former point guard he is. Although he’s sometimes been more elbows than accuracy, he’s also been the definition of relentless.
Perhaps Tarkanian’s prior campaign experience has taught him something.
Unlike basketball, in politics no one fouls out of the game.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.