Friday, Feb. 5, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the strangeness of Danny Tarkanian arriving late and the obviousness of Sue Lowden’s avoidance, this week’s inaugural televised debate in the GOP Senate scrum had its illuminating moments.
We had four of the dozen or so — the former commander of the USS Cole, Kirk Lippold, is the latest to float his name — on “Face to Face” this week, and despite the short time, a few things became clear:
• Who was that guy? John Chachas, the self-funding Wall Streeter who has returned to Main Street to run for the Senate, showed the most depth of any of the four — Tarkanian, state Sen. Mark Amodei and ex-Assemblywoman Sharron Angle.
Chachas talked with facility about the economy (“25 percent structural unemployment” and so on) and outlined what is antithetical to his philosophy (“Harry Reid speaks for big government”) and outlined the only truly original idea, albeit a controversial one (getting the BLM to give up much of its land so it could be sold, an idea Tarkanian recently pilfered).
Chachas, who may seem elitist to some, also showed a knack for using language that the electorate might cotton to: “I am very respectful of their public service,” he said of Angle and Amodei, “But Washington is essentially populated by politicians ... too few people who want to tell the truth and the American people are angry because they have been talked to like children for too long.”
Chachas told the Nevada News Bureau last month of his opponents, “None of them have said an original word other than rehashing what the NRSC already publishes on this stuff.”
Placed next to three of them Wednesday, he and they backed that up. (Only bad moment: He had a deer-in-headlights look when I asked him about the rural water project, eventually stammering lamely that he won’t support it until “the people in the North” do.)
Still, local Republicans have to ask themselves an uncomfortable question: What if a carpetbagger is the best candidate to defeat Reid?
• Is having a base and a cliché collection enough to win? The debate reinforced that question about Angle, who has fired up the right in past cycles by promoting (unsuccessfully) various anti-tax initiatives and by possessing the longest conservative voting record. She is the anti-Chachas, who can simply let loose with hot-button rhetoric.
“Harry Reid has been a disaster for this state.”
“Read my record, not my lips.”
And so on. But when I asked her for one original idea, Angle replied, “The original idea is to deregulate at the federal level so our state can have our states’ rights back.” She then, strikingly, said that is what the Founding Fathers had in mind, thus undermining her claim of originality, but then declaring, “That’s the original idea I bring.”
Are the Republicans who vote in the primary satisfied with that stuff? If so, Chachas has little chance, and Angle, as I have said, could be the real dark horse.
• Better late than never: Tarkanian gave his usual estimable performance, glibly answering most questions with talking points. It is clear he believes Lowden is his chief rival, obliquely criticizing her (“one of my opponents”) a couple of times. He risibly argued he is “against all pork projects,” which might turn the university that made his father into Tumbleweed Tech again if others adhered to that. Pork is always in the eye of the beholder, but Tarkanian seems to be an absolutist on federal largesse — against pork, earmarks, stimulus and so on. Reality takes a holiday.
Tarkanian’s pre-debate performance cannot be ignored. His campaign agreed to participate, then rejected appearing once other candidates besides Lowden were invited and then agreed again after pressure was applied. Then, inexplicably, he showed up late, blamed me and my crew for misleading him as to the time (?!) and falsely claimed I said on the air he was scared to participate.
Folks, this is truly bizarre behavior for someone who wants to be a U.S. senator.
• She’s not there: Lowden, the putative GOP front-runner, may believe she should not lower herself to appear with the other candidates in a televised debate — or she may indeed have had an irreconcilable conflict (her campaign said she was at an undisclosed location not on her public schedule).
But the perception (or reality) that she is Marie Antoinette and her opponents can eat cake will not serve her well going forward, especially because nothing her campaign has done so far beyond a smooth bio ad should give anyone confidence she is the best contender to defeat Reid, as seemed true months ago.
(You can see the entire debate here and judge for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/yg6knhm)