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Myers: Intruders in state politics

With the Nevada primary election now past and the possibility of another Sharron Angle candidacy for the U.S. Senate no longer (to Republicans) threatening, it’s a good time to reflect on some comments made by national Republican operatives shortly after she got into the race in March.

Six years earlier, Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and his campaign, facing a strong challenge from Republican Sue Lowden decided to engineer Lowden’s defeat in the Republican primary by demonizing one of her policy proposals, that Nevadans could use barter to get health care.

They believed if they could damage Lowden, it would throw the Republican nomination to one of the weaker candidates like Danny Tarkanian and Sharron Angle.

It worked like a charm.

Lowden’s numbers started falling steadily. (It should be noted that no Nevada reporter did a serious examination of Lowden’s barter proposal, which had considerably more substance to it than the Reid attack suggested, so much so that Nevada Revised Statutes had provisions providing for it.) By primary election day, Lowden had fallen to 26 percent of the 12-candidate field. Angle emerged with 40 percent.

Her campaign then became a famous object lesson in how to blow a lead. Though running against an unpopular incumbent, Angle proceeded to make herself pretty unpopular, slandering various groups such as autistic children, the unemployed, and Latinos.

In November, it wasn’t even close. Reid won easily with a six point margin. No one needed a recount.

This year, after she announced her candidacy again, a former publicist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) came forward. His name was Brian Walsh. He was worried that Angle would once again blow a good shot at the Senate, something the party could not afford.

In 2010 after winning the Republican nomination, Walsh recalled to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Angle traveled to D.C. where the NRSC was prepared to help her with money, issues, and all the other things that GOP Senate candidates get from that organization. In this case, its officials had never met the Nevada candidate

What NRSC learned was that Angle was not up to speed on issues. On Social Security, Walsh said, Angle thought there was literally – not figuratively – a lockbox in West Virginia that contained the assets of the system.

“Her plan to save Social Security was to somehow take all the money that had been quote ‘stolen’ out of the lockbox, and put it back in the lockbox based in West Virginia,” Walsh said.

Angle denied that she had taken such a position, but other NRSC folks backed up Walsh’s story to Roll Call.

Here’s the part that gets me: After he learned about Angle, Walsh still went out and tried to sell her to Nevadans. Knowing she was in over her head on issues, Walsh sent out news releases for NRSC every day of the general election campaign trying to elect Angle. I still have them in my email archive.

That’s the problem with national groups and national figures dabbling in state elections. They really don’t care if we are saddled with an incompetent. When the Club of Growth, a right wing group in D.C., endorsed Angle and poured money into her campaign in 2010, did they know what the implications for Nevadans, for grazing fees or Yucca Mountain or any other local issue, would be? Or were they just using a Nevada senate seat as a vehicle to push their own anti-regulatory, free trade agenda? When Bill and Hillary Clinton intruded into the 1994 Nevada Democratic primary between Jan Jones and Bob Miller, did they have the interests of Nevadans at heart or were they just trying to repay a Bob Miller endorsement of Clinton?

It is becoming more difficult, particularly on the Republican side, for candidates to even run for federal office without the aid of national political action committees. The money needed has gotten that big. That’s why we often see Republicans who were moderates in state offices suddenly dash to the far right when they run for federal offices, to curry favor with those groups. It’s one reason our politics gets more and more polarized.

And it can damage our states.

Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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