WASHINGTON -- The only thing you need to know about the upcoming Republican primary race in Nevada is: Who does Harry Reid want to win?
In another instance of strange bedfellows, the answer is the same person the tea party people are backing -- former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. When tea partiers and Democrats are on the same team, Republicans might need to worry.
For Reid's part, the reasoning is pretty simple. As some of his own campaign folks have let slip, the Senate majority leader figures he has a better shot of keeping his seat in the fall if Angle is his opponent instead of Sue Lowden. A recent Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey shows Lowden holding a 3-point lead over Reid and Reid with a 3-point lead over Angle.
Whether Angle's tea party endorsers have thought this through -- or whether they care -- ousting Reid seems to be less important than making their anti-establishment point yet again. Angle, though a relatively blank slate, is considered the low-tax, small-government candidate of choice and has been endorsed by the RINO-hunting Club for Growth.
Of greater concern to Reid and the Democratic Party has been Lowden, whose resume reads like an "Ocean's Eleven" character sketch. A wealthy casino executive, she's also the former state Republican Party chair and a beauty queen, an erstwhile Miss New Jersey. (Operative words here are New Jersey, not beauty queen. Though a knockout resembling Bo Derek, Lowden's tough talk quickly deflects the temptation to stare.)
I hear those chickens a-cluckin', so let's go ahead and wring a few necks.
Lowden committed the quintessential political gaffe when she noted in a rural Nevada town hall meeting that doctors and patients used to barter with chickens before anyone thought it necessary to involve the federal government in health care.
Note to politicians: Never mention an animal in a stump speech unless you intend to be saddled with the image forevermore. Heaven forbid she should have mentioned hogs. In fact, plenty of doctors and lawyers have accepted in-kind services, food or other products when a client couldn't pay. Live chickens may have been rare, but baskets of tomatoes, corn and cucumbers cluttered many a country doctor's kitchen counter when someone was short of cash.
Lowden's off-hand remark, which one might generously interpret as a metaphor for a more personal approach to health care, was a gift to her rivals, not to mention Comedy Central. For Reid, making chicken jokes is far easier than defending a national health care plan that more than half of Nevadans want repealed.
The chicken effect, surely a new political term, has had a negative effect on Lowden's own poll numbers, but nothing compared to the collective efforts of her several opponents. Together with third-party groups, they've spent millions against Lowden's $980,000. The biggest spender, however, has been Reid, who has dropped $1.58 million on ads.
The final push to next Tuesday will be suitably tense even for Nevada's casino culture.
The Tea Party Express, which helped push Scott Brown over the top in Massachusetts, has drafted its 350,000 national members to call Nevada voters for Angle. They're also planning a two-hour "radiothon" Thursday to raise money. Even a Reid-related PAC, Patriot Majority, took out a "Chickens for Checkups" ad attacking Lowden, an extraordinary step suggesting just how worried Reid is about Lowden. Patriot Majority was created by Democratic Party strategist and former Reid spokesman Craig Varoga.
Angle's own ads, meanwhile, have been notably creative, charging Lowden with raising taxes while head of the state Senate's taxation committee and of having supported Reid. Lowden and her husband did make a few campaign contributions to Reid in the 1980s, and she did approve some slot fee increases in 1993 during her first year in office. When she chaired the committee in 1995, however, no taxes were increased, prompting the Nevada Taxpayers Association to declare 1995 the state's "Best Legislative Session."
Lowden has fired back, pointing out Angle's peculiar legislative push for prisoner massages. Undoubtedly, massages would help relieve some of the stress of incarceration, but Angle would feel like she'd been Rolfed by the time Reid finished pounding home that bit of legislative whimsy.
All's fair, as they say, but the piling on against Lowden delivers a clear message: Harry Reid fears her. Those chickens may yet come home to roost.
Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is kathleenparker(at)washpost.com.
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