Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 | 7 a.m.
Las Vegas businesswoman Sue Lowden said she will announce this morning that she’s entering the race to be the next lieutenant governor, a move that will queue up a high-profile Republican battle for Nevada’s No. 2 elected office.
State Sen. Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, has already declared he’s running for the office, and he has the support of Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Lowden, who has spent months publicly mulling a bid for the position, said she thinks she has a good chance to beat Hutchison in the June 2014 primary election.
“I have spent the last eight weeks testing the waters, visiting the rurals, visiting all parts of Clark County to see if there’s an appetite for me to jump in this race, and I am very confident there is a need for someone with my experience and my capabilities to be a part of this race,” she said in an interview outside of the Santa Fe Station casino, a business she helped start. “I feel I am uniquely qualified for the job because I have spent three decades in the tourism industry so this is not new to me. I understand the job.”
Lowden, a failed Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010, said her experience privatizing the state workers’ compensation system while she was a state senator in the mid-1990s and her work running a business in the gaming industry prepares her for the job.
Still, she said she knows she has a fight ahead against Hutchison, a highly regarded state senator and a lawyer most known for working as Sandoval’s counsel in a multistate lawsuit challenging the federal government over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
“I recognize that this is an uphill battle because you had a governor who came out to early-endorse someone,” she said. “Having said that, I think that we’re a very independent-minded people here in Nevada and people judge you on the person.”
Lowden said a lot of Nevada voters already know her. And even though the election is more than half a year away, she wants to start raising money now and get her message out to voters.
Her opponent has already been doing it for three months.
Hutchison has more than just the governor’s kind words on his side. Sandoval’s campaign team is Hutchison’s campaign team.
Sandoval; Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.; and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., hosted a fundraiser for Hutchison this month during which donors dropped thousands of dollars into Hutchison’s campaign piggy bank.
The strong showing may have been an attempt to clear the field for Hutchison at a time when Lowden and Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers have both said they may run against him.
That didn’t work.
“I am confident that I will be competitive,” Lowden said. “I’ll have my own fundraisers. I do have financial backing or else I wouldn’t be doing this. If I didn’t think I could raise the money necessary, I certainly wouldn’t get in the race.”
Lowden said Beers is now treasurer for her campaign.
Hutchison, speaking Wednesday morning at a Hispanics in Politics breakfast, said he’s happy to have the governor’s endorsement. Apart from touting his history of working with the governor on things such as the Obamacare lawsuit, Hutchison declined to speak about his new opponent.
“There’s going to be plenty of time to compare and contrast,” he said. “For now, I’ll tell you I am grateful of the support of the governor.”
Lowden said she talked to Sandoval about running against his hand-picked candidate. Asked whether the governor would offer his endorsement if Lowden ran for a different office, Lowden said “that’s been offered, actually.”
She declined to name the office for which Sandoval would’ve given his endorsement. Instead, she said lieutenant governor is the only elected office that she wants to hold.
“I am uniquely qualified for this particular job,” she said. “If I didn’t feel a sense of public service about this job, about my being competent to move this state forward, then I wouldn’t be doing it. But I think this is a critical juncture in this state.”
Citing Nevada’s continued high unemployment and stagnant gaming revenues, she said she can be a “big service to our state” by focusing on economic development and tourism.
Beyond her credentials on paper, Lowden has faced criticism recently for hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign debts listed in Federal Election Commission paperwork related to her 2010 campaign.
Lowden downplayed the story, stating the fact that her previous campaign is a separate legal entity from her current campaign.
“I would ignore it,” she said. “It has nothing to do with this campaign. It’s like comparing an apple to an orange. It has nothing, except that they’re both fruits, there’s nothing that has to do with the other one.”
She said many candidates and elected officials in Nevada have filings with the FEC that have unpaid campaign debts.
“I think it was blown out of proportion and if you look at FEC reports, there’s dozens of people who still have open FEC reports and it takes many years to close those down,” she said.
Lowden may also have some trouble attracting libertarian-minded Republicans to her cause.
In 2008, she was the chairwoman of a Nevada Republican Party that precluded so-called “Liberty Republicans” from endorsing presidential candidate Ron Paul and sending his supporters to the national convention in 2008. Her move to shut down the convention earned her animosity among some Republicans, and she’s recently been trying to make amends.
Lowden may earn support from Republicans who view Sandoval as too politically moderate and therefore view Sandoval’s endorsement as a negative for Hutchison.
Indeed, a candidate for chairman of the Nevada Republican Party who had Sandoval’s backing recently lost in a bid to unseat party chairman Michael McDonald, who enjoyed support from Liberty and tea party Republicans.
But Lowden ran as the middle-of-the-road candidate in the 2010 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. She lost to Sharron Angle, the tea party darling who lost to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the general election.
Lowden said she’s hoping to gain the endorsement of all Republicans. Rather than distancing herself from Sandoval, she said “I consider myself a Brian Sandoval Republican.”
“I hope that I’ll attract everybody, not just one faction of the party,” she said of her candidacy.
Lowden said she plans to have media appearances Wednesday in her opening move to attract those Republicans.