The new nuisance in Nevada

THE NEW NUISANCE IN NEVADA…. It may seem as if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) is the Nevada politician feeling the most heat back home. After all, the Senate leader is up for re-election next year, and the polls look pretty discouraging for him at this point.

But given his competition, Reid is hardly in bad shape compared to some of his Silver State colleagues.

Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R), for example, is arguably the nation’s least popular and most scandalplagued governor, and is all but guaranteed a humiliating loss next year if he seeks re-election. Nevada’s junior senator, meanwhile, is John Ensign (R), who is now facing scrutiny from the FBI and the Senate Ethics Committee.

In the midst of all of this, former Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden is gearing up to take on Reid next year, and has received considerable encouragement from GOP leaders and the party establishment. The trick for Lowden now is figuring out what to do with her connections to Gibbons and Ensign. Last week, she told the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza, “I never called on them to resign. I am supportive of both of them.”

That’s exactly what Democrats wanted to hear.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has seized on those words of support in the wake of revelations — first reported by the New York Times — that Ensign pulled strings to find his mistress’s husband a job without disclosing all of the details of that relationship.

“Sue Lowden’s support of John Ensign may have fundraising value to her, but it is a reflection of her own character and fitness for office,” said DSCC communications director Eric Schultz. “She has shown more fidelity to him, than he has shown to his own wife.”

Well then.

Lowden already looks strong in hypothetical match-ups against Reid, but the road ahead is tricky with her scandal-plagued friends drawing headlines. She can’t trash Ensign and Gibbons without hurting her standing in the party in advance of a primary, but she can’t embrace the state’s two most tarnished, notorious, and ethics-challenged politicians without alienating everyone else.

Time‘s Jay Newton-Small added that the investigation into Ensign’s alleged wrongdoing “could hobble the Nevada Republican Party just as it gears up to take down Harry Reid…. Ensign’s doo-doo is much deeper than Reid’s and — between him and Gibbons — could end up drowning Lowden and any credible opposition in it.”