Former state Sen. Sue Lowden today announced her candidacy for lieutenant governor in a media blitz, declaring she’d be a great partner for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval notwithstanding the fact that he’s endorsed somebody else for the job.
Lowden, a casino owner and former KLAS Channel 8 news anchor, said her inside knowledge of the gambling and tourism industries makes her a perfect candidate for the job. In addition, she said, her children are grown, so she can devote her full time and attention to the lieutenant governor’s office.
“I have the time,” Lowden said of her family situation. Asked if she was suggesting primary rival state Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, was less able to handle the job because of his large family, Lowden said some voters might find the issue dispositive.
“I would just ask him if he feels this is a full-time job or a part-time job,” she said. “Some people might find it helpful in deciding who to pick, for some people it might not matter.”
Asked earlier in the day about the job’s status — which is currently considered part-time under the state’s system — Hutchison said he’d work as long as it takes to get it done. “I’ll do whatever it takes to do the job,” he said after addressing the group Hispanics in Politics on Wednesday morning.
Lowden said she’s criss-crossed the state to gauge her chances in another bid for statewide office. She ran in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2010 for the right to challenge Harry Reid, but was beaten by former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle. Lowden’s campaign struggled with a slow-footed response to her comments about patients bartering with physicians for health care in what she termed “the olden days.” The resulting “chickens for checkups” garnered national attention.
Angle went on to lose to Reid by 5 percentage points, and some in the party maintain that had Lowden won, she could have beaten Reid in the general. “For those who didn’t vote for me before, I think there is a second look,” she said.
But Lowden stressed her credentials over her past as key to her platform.
“I believe that I am uniquely qualified for this race,” Lowden said, citing her experience owning and running the Sahara, Hacienda, Sante Fe and Laughlin’s Pioneer casinos. (The Sahara and Sante Fe were later sold to other companies, and the Hacienda was imploded to make way for Mandalay Bay.) “I have a lengthy resume of experience that allows me to hit the ground running.”
She dismissed the fact that Sandoval immediately endorsed Hutchison, and has been campaigning with the Las Vegas attorney around the state as a Republican ticket. She said she and Sandoval talked by phone before she announced and that the conversation was “extremely cordial.”
“I’m fully confident … that when I am lieutenant governor we will work very well together,” she said.
Lowden also said she wasn’t worried about the infamous 2008 Republican state convention, which was shut down early as supporters of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul tried to stage a takeover in order to send delegates to the national convention in Minnesota. Paul’s supporters said they were cheated out of a victory by establishment leaders of the party, but went on to capture positions in the state and local party structure in 2012.
Lowden, who welcomed Paul to Nevada that year, and even invited him to speak to the state convention, said she rarely gets asked about the incident by anyone other than the media. “I’ve worked hard to embrace all factions of the party in the last couple of years,” she said. “I intend to attract a lot of people to the campaign.”
Indeed, by running against Hutchison, Lowden is now the outsider candidate challenging the status quo. An ardent tax foe, she is pitted against Hutchison, who voted for a budget that contained an extension of supposedly temporary taxes that were supposed to expire in 2011.
The lieutenant governor’s race in 2014 is freighted with additional significance because of the possibility that Sandoval may leave mid-term to seek national office or accept an appointment in the federal government, should a Republican take the White House in 2016. National party leaders might not be sanguine about Sandoval leaving swing-state Nevada in the hands of a Democrat, so there’s additional emphasis on a Republican taking the seat next year.
Meanwhile, Hutchison stressed his Sandoval endorsement when asked about his qualifications for the office.
“I’m all in and I’m in to win,” he said. “It’s a great privilege and honor to have the governor’s support.”
Then again, that support didn’t stop Lowden from jumping into the race, which suggests Sandoval’s influence over the party is not as powerful as it could be. (To be sure, a Sandoval-backed candidate on Saturday lost a challenge to Nevada Republican Party Chairman Michael McDonald.) Hutchison said Sandoval nonetheless remains popular with Nevada Republicans. And when asked what besides his association with the governor makes him a better candidate than Lowden, he demurred, saying the campaign would bring plenty of chances for contrast.
“For now, I’ll tell you I’m grateful to have the support of the governor,” he said.
Hutchison himself has achieved some popularity in the Republican Party in Nevada. He represented the state pro bono under former Gov. Jim Gibbons and later Sandoval in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And he represented the Republican Party in legal proceedings surrounding the 2010 redistricting of political boundaries in the state.
He proved to be an adept senator during the 2013 session, as well, asking penetrating questions in hearings and striking a bi-partisan tone in the upper house. He was a key player on the bill to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries, saying the voters of Nevada had amended the state constitution to legalize the drug, even though he personally disagreed with that call.
UPDATE: I asked Hutchison for a response to Lowden’s remarks about family obligations getting in the way of doing the job. He reiterated that he’d spend as much time as necessary to do the job, even putting his law practice on hold if necessary. He said he’d foregone family time during his four-month stint in the Legislature this year, too.
“That’s a curious comment,” Hutchison said of Lowden’s remark. “Most of us in public service believe that our family is what motivates us.”
Hutchison said having children gives him a better perspective on policy issues, but that he was fully prepared to balance his home obligations with those of elected office. “I’ve committed this time in my life is going to be devoted to public service,” he said.