It was April of 2008, at the meeting of the Republican National Committee in Albuquerque. All the state GOP organizations were to submit their plans to the McCain campaign for how they would win their respective states in the fall election.
When it came time for Nevada to make their presentation, the state chairman told the campaign how much money it would take to win the state, the amount of votes needed to win, and how much staff was needed on the ground. But according to state chairman Sue Lowden, McCain had a secret weapon in Nevada.
According to Lowden, there was a bit of a charisma gap between candidate Obama and candidate McCain. The best way to close that gap was to have a line of scantily clad go-go dancers in the terminal of the Las Vegas Airport ready to greet the Senator as he emerged from the gangway to begin his campaign in the state. Lowden argued that this was a great way to get John McCain on the cover of People Magazine, and since everyone in Nevada read People, John McCain and the showgirls would put the state safely in the win column for the GOP. Yucca Mountain be damned.
In light of the campaign McCain ended up running, there might be an argument that showgirls would have been a better idea than anything he actually ended up doing. We'll never know. But at the time, it caused most of the staffers in the meeting to choke back hysteria.
"It was an ongoing joke around the McCain campaign from there on out: Operation Showgirl," recalled one of the staffers.
Today, Sue Lowden, architect of Operation Showgirl is one of the front runners for United States Senate in Nevada, in a Republican primary for the right to face Harry Reid in November.
"I’m devoting 100% of my time to this, and I’m going to shake as many hands as possible and reintroduce myself to those who already knew me, and for those who don’t me, I’m going to make sure they know I’m the real thing," she said.
Perhaps that real thing will indeed be a little showy, or at least reminiscent of the plan she cooked up for McCain; as a longtime resident of Las Vegas, she was a former Miss New Jersey and runner up to Miss America. She anchored the nightly news in Las Vegas for over a decade, during which she was both married and gave birth to her two children — live, on air.
"Instead of the sports that night on the 11 o'clock news they went live from my hospital room," she told me.
But that star power is also backed up with business acumen — a factor Lowden is highlighting as Nevada suffers from the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. Her family is in the entertainment business, and she's well-known among the Las Vegas crowd for being able to write the paychecks as well as sign them. She and her husband, Nevada businessman Paul Lowden, own various restaurants and hotels, and built the first ice arena in the Las Vegas desert.
While Lowden and her main competitor in the GOP primary, Danny Tarkanian, are polling ahead of Reid with over 12 months left before the election, Reid something of Darth Vader figure in Nevada politics. He has electoral successes that dates back to 1971, has spoken publicly about accumulating $25 million war chest, and is already running television ads in the state. Lowden is expected to be able to compete financially; it's not yet known how well Tark will do in the money department. Whatever the case, Lowden is confident that Reid's empire can be won over.
"[Reid ] is not going to be able to win on his record, and not going to be able to win on his power. He has forgotten about the people in Nevada," she said. "He ran as an independent Nevadan, and he has become a very liberal partisan Nancy Pelosi clone. And he has forgotten who has put him into office. Nevadans are very independent, center right, libertarian in the fact that we do not want government in our lives, we want hands-off as far as regulation and rules and government intervention, and Harry Reid has voted just the opposite."
Whether Lowden can harness those independents remains to be seen. She made waves in the 2008 cycle by kicking Ron Paul supporters out of the Nevada GOP convention after the Paulies were set to steal the state's GOP votes for their candidate. It would've been a massive PR blunder for the national Republican convention, and Lowden was the one responsible for preventing it.
Those Paulies have now formed the Fair Nevada Elections PAC to fight her candidacy, saying that she was the one responsible for backhanded politics that excised the Libertarian voice out of the Nevada GOP. Lowden brushes it off.
"The one PAC that’s been formed – that gentleman is still very upset that his son wasn’t chosen as a delegate for the national convention. I wasn’t on that committee who chose the delegates. We had some discrepancy over who the delegates should be, so the RNC ultimately chose who the delegates should be, and he wasn’t chosen again," she explained. "I think he feels disenfranchised by the national Party."
She also says she's turned that libertarian ill-will into electoral promise.
"I am the only chairman that asked Congressman Paul to speak at the state convention, and he came... I have subsequently met with Dr. Paul at his office in Washington, and I spoke to him on the phone to give him a heads up. And he wished me well. This particular man is a detractor, clearly, but I have many many people in Nevada who have encouraged me to pursue this race," she said.