Hey, McFly! Are you … chicken?

After a couple of bad days spent explaining why she’s failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign debt from her unsuccessful Senate bid, hotelier Sue Lowden today decided it’s probably best to change the subject in her campaign for lieutenant governor.

(This is a good thing, since Lowden’s troubles on that front seem to be mounting. Depositions show she’s directly contradicted her former campaign manager, who proffered evidence to support his statements. And while the idea that Sue Lowden the person is different from Sue Lowden for U.S. Senate may have legal validity, it plays very poorly on Main Street.)

So Lowden’s returning to a familiar theme: The idea that her Republican opponent, state Sen. Mark Hutchison, is under the control of paid consultants, and will do only what those consultants allow. (That’s a loaded word in today’s Nevada Republican Party, which sees “consultants” as part of an elite group that disdains the conservative base in its quest to win seats for establishment candidates.)

Here’s some of an email that Lowden put out today, taunting Hutchison and agreeing to a very unusual debate set-up:

The fact is the only real debate we’ve had to date was on Ralston Reports over a month ago, where Sen. Hutchison lost that famous temper of his and showed voters a side of him they surely won’t see in his television or radio ads.

Considering how poorly Sen. Hutchison performed in that debate, I can understand why his handlers are keeping him under wraps.

But while it might be a smart political move to keep Sen. Hutchison from appearing on the political battlefield with me, one-on-one/face-to-face, it does an extreme disservice to voters who deserve to hear an open and frank discussion of our experience, our ideas and our philosophical differences.

So here’s what I’m willing to do…

To make it safer, I’ll allow Sen. Hutchison’s campaign manager, Mike Slanker, to moderate any additional debates.

In fact, not only will I allow Mr. Slanker to ask the questions, I’ll allow him to tell Sen. Hutchison how he should answer the questions before Sen. Hutchison actually answers!

And if the two of them combined get stumped, I’ll even let them call a “lifeline.”

In other words, I’m not asking the Hutchison campaign to do anything differently from what they’ve been doing for the last nine months.

So what do you say, Mr. Slanker? Will you let the senator come out and play if I let you hold his hand?

Of course, as a certified pundit who has moderated a debate or two in his time, I object! If we allow campaign managers to start doing the job of pundits, where will it end? (Yes, I recognize the irony, since pundits so very often try to do the job of campaign managers. And our advice is worth exactly what you’ve paid for it!)

Lowden has tried taunting Hutchison before, to no avail. He knows he’s the front-runner, and that his paid media buys are more than enough to counter Lowden’s attacks. (In fact, Lowden’s repeated taunting shows she knows getting on TV with Hutchison is one of her quickest pathways to victory.) And while it might be tempting to engage in a playground fight after somebody calls you “chicken,” it’s a fair bet that Slanker has advised Hutchison that avoiding an unnecessary fight is better than getting into one and coming out the loser.

It’s not that Hutchison doesn’t have material — Lowden’s debts and her inability to admit making mistakes is a dangerous flaw. But it’s important to remember that this is a Republican primary, where Lowden’s attacks on Hutchison (over the Affordable Care Act and taxes) are 100 times more potent than they would be in a general election.

And while I’d love to see these two debate head to head again — I’d even offer my professional moderating skills, so Slanker doesn’t have to pull double duty — I don’t think it’s going to happen.

UPDATE: Hutchison’s campaign emailed to report that, in fact, he and Lowden will debate again, on the May 12 edition of Nevada Newsmakers, which is a Reno-based political talk show.

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