Totally Plucked: What Happened To Sue Lowden’s Once Formidable Campaign?

With tomorrow’s Nevada primary coming up, it’s worth looking back on the many gaffes and errors of former state GOP chair Sue Lowden, whose once-mighty Senate campaign has fallen behind Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle. Simply put, the chickens have come home to roost for what may be one of the worst-run Senate primary campaigns of this cycle.

Lowden shot to national fame in April, when she was caught on tape telling people to barter with their doctors in order to lower health care costs. Her other policy prescription for people grappling with expensive health care: “And if you want to save $20,000, good for you. Save it pre-tax.”

A week later, Lowden dug in on the barter system: “Let’s change the system and talk about what the possibilities are. I’m telling you that this works. You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor. They would say I’ll paint your house.”“Very few candidates can withstand ridicule, I think,” said Ted Jelen, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, in an interview with TPMDC. He added: “The chicken stuff, it made what had been an inevitability a good deal more competitive.”

The national GOP tried to defend Lowden, saying that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was trying “to inject farm animals into his flailing re-election bid,” but the damage was done. Lowden became a laughingstock among national comedy shows. A liberal third-party group ran an attack ad against her for having a “Chickens For Checkups” plan, and Democrats would send a heckler in a chicken-suit to her events.

The chicken-suit hecklers became so ubiquitous that the state of Nevada formally banned their presence at voting locations for election day.

Other questions emerged, too, such as whether campaign followed campaign finance law in using a customized RV given to them by a supporter. Lowden originally said it was donated — which would have exceeded by far the legal limits on in-kind contributions. The campaign then reversed course and said it was leased. Lowden also got in hot water for spending general-election money on the primary. Her campaign manager chalked it up to an “accounting error” that would be fixed: “We had believed that the general election money had been untouched, but about half of 1 percent was not left untouched.”

One of her own supporters, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, gave her the not-too-flattering nickname “Suicidal Sue.” “I still endorse Sue Lowden for Senate,” he later said. “I think she’s very capable and very qualified. But, I hope her handlers will do a better job of working with her, and coordinating things. If they make a mistake, admit they made a mistake, don’t try to cover it and brush over it.”

Meanwhile, Angle picked up support in high places. The right-wing Club For Growth endorsed her campaign, and has been running ads for her. She’s gained big media coverage, and become the main target of Lowden’s attacks. Going into tomorrow, it’s Angle who has the upward momentum.

So let’s look at the toll that all of this helped to take on Lowden. Two months ago, Mason-Dixon had her leading the GOP primary field with 45%, followed by ex-UNLV basketball player Danny Tarkanian with 27%, and Angle at 5%. A month ago, she was down to 30%, with Angle at 25% and Tarkanian with 22%. And now the latest poll has Angle with 32%, Tarkanian at 24%, and Lowden with 23%.

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