Nevada Voters To Choose Reid's GOP Challenger

Robert Siegel talks to Jon Ralston, columnist for the Las Vegas Sun, about the GOP Senate primary in Nevada on Tuesday, in which voters will choose an opponent for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There are primaries tomorrow in Nevada, where Republicans will choose an opponent for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And the incumbent Republican Governor Jim Gibbons faces a very strong challenge in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

For those stories, we're joined now by Jon Ralston, columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Welcome to the program once again.

Mr. JON RALSTON (Columnist, Las Vegas Sun): Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, Majority Leader Harry Reid, fair to say that he's vulnerable this year?

Mr. RALSTON: Oh, he's very vulnerable. His numbers are below 40 percent in his approval rating. I think that almost anybody put up against him in a head-to-head with a Republican after their name would have a shot to beat him.

SIEGEL: So there are three Republicans who at least have a chance it seems from the polls: Sharon Angle, Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian. Tell us about them.

Mr. RALSTON: Well, Danny Tarkanian is the easy one, of course. He is competitive mostly because of his last name. He's the son of the legendary basketball coach here. But he's run a very aggressive, and actually maybe the best campaign of all, and so he is in position to be competitive.

Next is Sue Lowden, who was the frontrunner for many, many months - the establishment candidate, favored I think privately by national and local Republicans because of her viability against Harry Reid. But then she had some very high-profile self-inflicted wounds, including this statement that in the olden days her grandmother used to give chickens for health care. People used to barter for health care, which she refused to back away from, became the subject of national ridicule because, of course, chickens are very, very funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RALSTON: That has very much hurt her. And then in that same time period, Sharon Angle, who was way behind in the polls in single-digits was suddenly catapulted into contention by being endorsed by the Tea Party Express, and then having the Club for Growth - which has a lot of money - come in and spend money on her here.

In addition, a Democratic front group called the Patriot Majority has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hurt Lowden here. And now you have a situation where Sharon Angle, who was invisible a couple of months ago, thanks to chickens and outside forces is now the frontrunner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: And Sharon Angle is the candidate, it is believed, whom Senator Reid would most like to run against.

Mr. RALSTON: There's no doubt about that because she can't come back to the middle. Maybe Sue Lowden can.

SIEGEL: Now, in the governor's race, the Republican incumbent Jim Gibbons also has a very tough race tomorrow.

Mr. RALSTON: Unless thousands upon thousands of people get lost going to the polls tomorrow, Robert, Jim Gibbons is going to be the first incumbent governor in the history of the state of Nevada to lose in a primary. He's behind by 15 to 20 points to a former federal judge who left a lifetime appointment that, quite ironically, Harry Reid helped him get.

The Republican Party establishment is desperate to hold onto the governorship. They believe that Jim Gibbons cannot win the general election and so they and others are supporting Brian Sandoval, who is going to win that race fairly easily, I think.

SIEGEL: Now, Nevada was one of the hardest hit states in the housing market collapse. And we now routinely speak of Las Vegas as the city that used to be the fastest-growing city in the U.S. How much does all that drive whats happening politically in the state now?

Mr. RALSTON: There's a lot of anger in the state, mostly because of the economic conditions you mentioned. We were the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis. Our unemployment rate is one of the highest in the country. You look at polling thats done and in that question thats asked at the beginning of polls: Do you believe the state is going in the right direction or the wrong direction, over 80 percent - more than 80 percent in some polls. People are talking about the anti-incumbent fervor, the anger across this country, Robert. Nowhere is it more pronounced than it is right here in Nevada.

SIEGEL: Well, Jon Ralston, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. RALSTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Jon Ralston, columnist for the Las Vegas Sun and also host of the paper's political news program "Face To Face with Jon Ralston."

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