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Is Chickens-for-Checkups a Game Changer?

In a Flashpoint column titled, “Lowden could have ended this by now,” published in the Las Vegas Sun yesterday, Jon Ralston wrote:

“How is it possible that we are still talking about Sue Lowden and Bartergate so long after her initial comments in Mesquite? The Democrats continue to make hay out of the issue (Lowden saying people could barter for health care) while Lowden refuses to back off her use of the word, instead saying on ‘Nevada Newsmakers’ that she wouldn’t back off her statements.

“I know sorry seems to be the hardest word in politics, but this is one of those issues that could metastatsize and become emblematic if she’s not careful. Many insiders believe Harry Reid needed a deus ex machina to survive. But a goat and some chickens? Who would have guessed that?”

Indeed.

Later in the afternoon, Ralston expounded on the fuster-cluck-cluck-cluck in his daily Flash e-newsletter:

I initially believed that when Senate hopeful Sue Lowden made her infamous bartering proposal in Mesquite, what I last week referred to as her macaca moment, that she meant to use the word “bargain.” That is, you should bargain with your doctor if you can, get the best price. That would have been relatively uncontroversial, and if she had corrected herself, the story would have evaporated.

Instead, thanks to what is either her stubborn refusal to say she used the wrong word or what amounts to campaign malpractice, the drops have become a tsunami, threatening to drown out any other campaign message. It has been astonishing to watch Lowden defend the remarks on “Nevada Newsmakers” and then watch her campaign send out missives trying to justify what she said. Indeed, Ben Smith of POLITICO indicated he thought the background doc was a joke because her defense is so ludicrous.

The analogies here also flood the mind: Remember when Gov. Richard Bryan, a shoo-in for the U.S. Senate in 1988, brushed off a snowballing issue about his use of a “private jet.” He went from 40 percentage points ahead in the polls to even and almost lost a U.S. Senate race. And that was a fabricated issue; this one is real.

Or how about a simpler one for Team Lowden: When you are in a hole, the cardinal rule is – stop digging.

The latest her campaign sent out is a CNN story from a year ago about bartering, headlined: “Can’t afford health care? Barter for it”

But even the story works against the campaign that emailed it far and wide because it points out how bartering can’t fill the gap and is rarely used. And now, as she tries to assert herself above the other 11 candidates, Lowden finds herself being ridiculed far and wide. And the whole bartering proposition lends itself so easily to derision, as Jay Leno and now the DSCC discovered.

So now the Democrats have found a way to deflect from the ObamaCare scorn with one of their own: LowdenCare. I wouldn’t be surprised if some national Democrats start using LowdenCare to parry health care reform criticism.

What a disaster that didn’t have to be, one that could so easily have been averted. My experience tells me that while Harry Reid is still in a deeper hole right now than Lowden and is at best even money to get re-elected, this is the kind of moment that threatens to become a game-changer in a campaign.

Initially, the Lowden campaign was loathe to bring in experienced, professional campaign consultants from DC, fearing being painted as a DC “establishment” candidate. Well, like it or not, those experienced, professional DC consultants know exactly how to handle messes like this one. Time to send out an SOS.