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December 21, 2014

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POLITICS:

Something fishy about Tea Party candidate, GOP insists

Tea Party's Scott Ashjian

Jon Scott Ashjian, Part 2

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  • Jon Scott Ashjian, Part 2
  • Jon Scott Ashjian, Part 1
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Jon Scott Ashjian

Sun Coverage

Danny Tarkanian

Danny Tarkanian

Sue Lowden

Sue Lowden

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Renegade Tea Party candidate Jon Scott Ashjian could do more to unify the beleaguered Nevada Republican Party than the combined efforts of the party’s organizations up and down the state.

Ashjian has sent the party into a tizzy by seizing the conservative Tea Party brand and launching a third-party campaign to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Republicans are aghast at the nerve of the little-known political upstart waltzing onto the scene and claiming the conservative mantle. Polling shows their concerns aren’t unfounded — Ashjian could re-elect Reid by siphoning conservative voters from the Republican candidate.

Unable to bring him into the fold, Republicans are trying to do the next best thing: destroy his candidacy.

The best way to do this, they have concluded, is by alleging he is a puppet of Reid.

“Nobody in the Tea Party knows who he is. He didn’t know any of the principles of the Tea Party,” Republican Senate hopeful Danny Tarkanian told CNN on Wednesday.

Asked if Reid was behind Ashjian’s campaign, Tarkanian said, “No doubt about it.”

When pressed later by the Sun, Tarkanian acknowledged he had no factual evidence of Reid’s meddling in the campaign. “The evidence is of course circumstantial, but it’s strong enough to make many in the Tea Party movement suspicious,” said Tarkanian’s spokesman Jamie Fisfis.

And so, finding it useful to their ends, Republicans have kept the conspiracy theory alive.

Tarkanian, who is of Armenian descent, went on to suggest the Reid camp chose a fellow Armenian to pull support away from his own budding candidacy because “they know the Armenians are very close; they’ll vote for each other.”

Later in the day, Tarkanian suggested it might have been the Mormon connection that drew Reid to Ashjian, because both are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to the Las Vegas Web site SlashPolitics.

Tarkanian again acknowledged to SlashPolitics he had no idea if Reid was involved.

Fellow Republican candidate Sue Lowden tried to remain above the fray, seeking to secure front-runner status in the large Republican field. “Danny Tarkanian’s allegations are his own and we’ll leave it to him to substantiate his recent claims,” said Lowden spokesman Robert Uithoven.

Yet the conspiracy proved too tempting, as Lowden’s campaign noted that the candidate “has attended and contributed to the Tea Party efforts in Nevada, but she has never met Mr. Ashjian at any of their events.”

Reid has long been a great unifier of the Republican Party, as the powerful majority leader and, now, friend of President Barack Obama.

Rather than embrace the clout one of the nation’s top Democrats can bring to the small state, Nevada Republicans — and conservatives outside the party — want to end his political career. Even his 100-member “Republicans for Reid” team cannot deter rank-and-file Republican Party activists from this quest.

Reid denies meddling in the Ashjian candidacy.

Asked if the senator, his office or his campaign was involved in getting Ashjian to run, Reid spokesman Jon Summers said, “No, no and no.”

The Ashjian candidacy is precisely what the splintered Republican Party in Nevada and elsewhere had hoped to avoid.

Last spring, a coalition of outlier conservative groups in Las Vegas — Ron Paul supporters, Tea Partyers — decided that since history is not kind to third-party candidacies, they would not branch off. Instead, they would try to rebuild the Republican Party in their image.

They are off to a decent start, judging by the recent overthrow of the Clark County Republican Party’s executive board led by Ron Paul and Tea Party supporters.

Now Ashjian threatens those well-laid plans.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal poll showed Reid, who has been trailing the leading Republican candidates by double-digits for months, winning if Ashjian enters the race.

On Wednesday, conservative activists up and down the state signed a pledge to denounce Ashjian’s new party, Tea Party Nevada, and refused to invite him to any of their events, according to a petition first reported on the Nevada News Bureau site.

The conservative activists even pledged not to use the beloved “Tea Party candidate” phrase while discussing grass-roots campaigns.

“We are united in denouncing the” Tea Party of Nevada, the undersigners wrote. “The TPN is not a conservative party who speaks for grass-roots and tea party activists in Nevada … The TPN is not now, has never been, and will never be affiliated with grass-roots efforts in Nevada.

“The term ‘Tea Party candidate’ will no longer be used to indicate grass-roots support for a candidate or candidates,” the pledge continued.

“We, the tea party activists and grass-roots organizers in Nevada, are united.”

Nationally, the Republican Party has struggled with how to handle the Tea Party movement. Republicans want to tap the energy and passion of its members, who have breathed new life into conservative politics. But a warm Republican embrace could also turn off the movement’s anti-big government activists who believe the Republican Party is part of the problem.

Republicans nationally, and in Nevada, acknowledge the party lost its way after electoral defeats of 2006 and 2008. They recognize a third-party effort could do further damage.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is the chairman of his party’s campaign efforts in the Senate, said this week that he wants to bring Tea Party candidates under the Republican tent, as has happened in the recent governor’s race in his home state and in the Florida Senate race where the renegade candidate is now leading the establishment-backed Republican.

The Nevada Republican Party’s efforts to run off the upstart Ashjian could conceivably pave the way to re-establishing the Grand Old Party in the state. The renunciation of the Tea Party candidate moniker is one of the strongest signals yet that the Republican brand might have newfound currency.

Among Nevada conservatives, it appears the only bond more powerful than their desire to topple Reid is their desire to topple the upstart who might interfere with that goal.

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