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In Nevada, Sue Lowden's bid to defeat Harry Reid shows chickens are no laughing matter

April 21, 2010 |  4:54 pm

Sue Lowden has a problem: Chickens are really funny.

Lowden, the GOP front-runner to take on vulnerable Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, has all the makings of a majority leader-toppler.

A casino executive, she can tout herself as a job creator during a devastating recession. She’s also got the looks and smooth delivery of a former beauty queen – Miss New Jersey 1973! – and Las Vegas TV anchorwoman.

Picture her next to the soft-spoken and charisma-deprived Reid and the Sarah Palin comparisons are inevitable. (For more evidence, check out this exhaustive Las Vegas Sun profile.)

But Lowden can’t go anywhere these days without someone squawking about chickens. After....

...Lowden seemingly advocated "bartering" for medical care, Jay Leno smelled a decent punch line. But instead of backing away from the comment, Lowden tried to defend it:

"You know, before we all started having healthcare, in the olden days our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor, they would say I’ll paint your house," she said. "I mean, that’s the old days of what people would do to get healthcare with your doctors. Doctors are very sympathetic people. I’m not backing down from that system."

Though Lowden’s campaign has made a valid argument that medical bartering is not uncommon – and has been covered by credible news outlets such as CNN – no one has paid much attention.

The Reid campaign issued a press release: “Has Sue Lowden Lost Her Mind?” The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched an admittedly hilarious “Chickens for Checkups” website.

A sampling of Wednesday Twitter traffic revealed a multitude of possible riffs:

@StiffsGeorges: Anybody know where I can get a hold of some chickens to barter for hotel room @ Pioneer Gambling Hall [one of Lowden’s properties] in scenic Laughlin?

@KagroX: I threw a chicken in the toll basket on the Parkway other day & they looked at me like I was a GOP Sen candidate!

@JeoFree: It's even worse when they pay in rubber chickens, because those always bounce

Even though something else will soon distract the Twitterati, the episode leaves Lowden with two giant headaches:

First, female candidates are often forced to defend their intellectual gravitas in a way their male counterparts aren’t. It’s completely unfair, but it’s also reality. Hence, this is how the Senate majority leader dismissed Lowden’s stint as a USO volunteer during the Vietnam War:

“I'm glad she went over there with the other beauty queens,” Reid said. “Standing next to somebody doesn't do anything for veterans.”

The Chicken Catastrophe does nothing to bolster impressions of Lowden as a serious candidate.

Second, humorous arguments have a way of sticking. One of the few times Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign gained traction was when tongue-in-cheek ads placed rival Barack Obama in the same category as Paris Hilton: all sizzle, no substance.

Later, the McCain camp got a boost from adding Alaska's Gov. Palin to the GOP ticket – but it was short-lived. Arguably more than anything, Tina Fey’s deft mockery of the Alaska governor on “Saturday Night Live” – “I can see Russia from my house!” – eroded the public’s faith in her ability to serve as vice president.

In 1997, our former colleague, Roy Rivenburg, wrote a side-splitting story on how chickens are taking over the world. Among his evidence:

• At the time, chickens outnumbered people 4 to 1.

• The California Legislature had invited a giant chicken mascot into its chambers and bestowed the bird with a commendation.

We're now wondering: Might poultry also have the power to deflate a Senate campaign?

--Ashley Powers

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