GOP Comes To Harry Reid’s Rescue With Intraparty Brawl

A Republican civil war and some rather, well, fowl comments about health care might just be giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a fresh chance at reelection this fall.

For months Reid (D-NV) has seemed like a goner as each one of his potential GOP rivals held solid leads in polls. But as the June 8 primary nears, the Republicans in the crowded field of challengers have turned on one another and the race is tightening. It seems Sue Lowden is no longer immune to the Republican intraparty wars sprouting up across the country as Utah GOPers boot a longtime senator and as Kentucky Republicans are sparring over the better candidate to run for Senate.

Sue Lowden, the former state chairman who seemed like the favorite candidate of official Washington, is taking heat from all sides as Democrats and several GOP challengers have seized on her suggestion that a health care bartering system would work better than the reform law passed by Congress this spring. The Democrats had a field day dubbing it “Chickens for Checkups,” but it’s Lowden’s Republican challenger Danny Tarkanian who has done the most damage on the topic. He’s also made an issue out of Lowden’s campaign contributions to Reid more than a decade ago.The far right is turning against her, with uberconservative Red State’s Erick Erickson going after Lowden on his blog. He trashed her in a posting this week with the criticism of the moment, attempting to paint her as the untrustworthy, establishment favorite. He has long favored Tarkanian as the “clear conservative.”

“Lowden is going to be a general election nightmare. She may be backed by pretty much every establishment Republican, but that’s because she is an establishment Republican,” wrote Erickson, who works with Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund. “[C]onservatives can do better.”

Tarkanian also is getting help from staunch anti-immigration activists as Reid says he’d like to get a comprehensive immigration bill with a pathway to citizenship to the Senate floor this year. That issue has bee fueled by the recent signing of a tough new law targeting illegal immigrations in Arizona and the political chatter around immigration continuing to splinter the GOP.

In Washington, Reid signaled that he would make immigration a high priority this year — even at the potential expense of other initiatives — in what looks like a strategic move to help boost Democrats’ standing with Hispanic voters. Back home, the Republican candidates for his seat are going after one another on rights and benefits for illegal immigrations. Tarkanian in particular has taken a stance preferred by the conservative Minutemen, while Lowden criticized him in a letter to the editor. (Check out Tarkanian’s new TV ad on the issue here.)

What’s more is that Lowden’s standing has diminished thanks to the Tea Party Express endorsement of GOP candidate Sharron Angle, a former state assembly member. As Angle and Tarkanian slug it out for the conservative label, something that might normally divide the party to let the moderate candidate prevail, it’s actually looking like Lowden is the one suffering.

“Lowden’s loss has been Angle’s gain,” Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker told the Las Vegas Review Journal in a story today showing a new Mason-Dixon poll of 500 likely voters shows Angle surging. The voters told pollsters that Angle seemed the most conservative of the bunch.

“Lowden has been the anointed front-runner for a couple of months, which made her a target for everybody,” Coker said. “And Angle got the Tea Party endorsement, and she’s the most conservative candidate running.”

The tea party group has spent about $200,000 on running ads for Angle on television and radio. The Tea Party Express is calling the new poll a “dramatic surge” with just nine days before early voting begins in the Silver State.

“One reason we got so heavily involved in the race is because Sharron Angle’s chief opponent gave Harry Reid $1,000 on 5-occasions. We felt it too important that there be a real, true-blue, battle-tested conservative running to defeat Reid – one who had NOT given Reid campaign support in the past,” Joe Wierzbicki told tea party supporters today.

That’s coupled with a new Democratic poll out yesterday showing Reid with 42 percent and Lowden with 35 percent. With Tarkanian as the Republican nominee, he and Reid are tied at 37%-37%. The survey of likely voters has a ±4.5% margin of error.

Lowden also is no favorite with the libertarian leaning Republicans since as chairwoman of the Nevada GOP she refused to allow Ron Paul’s delegates to vote at the state convention in 2008.

The current TPM Poll Average of the primary shows Lowden still the frontrunner but that her margin has tightened as she has 32.5 percent, Tarkanian has 26.0 percent and Angle has 14.0 percent.

Meanwhile instead of backing away from the domestic political issue that hurt his standing back home, Reid went on the air with television ads laser focused on health care. The ads defend health care by using personal stories of Nevadans helped by the new law. But will they help Reid? He’s not surging by any means, but holding steady since he put them on the air. Reid also has millions more in the bank to keep them on television as citizens start to see the benefits take effect this summer.

The current TPM Poll Average of the possible general election matchup shows Lowden with 52.6 percent and Reid with 38.3 percent.

Additional reporting by Evan McMorris-Santoro