Lowden, a wealthy gambling executive, leads the Republican field in the primary campaign for the right to challenge the Democratic incumbent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. She's a former Nevada state senator, a former head of the state GOP, a former television anchorwoman and a former Miss New Jersey. Polls show her leading Reid by at least 10 points.
Three weeks ago, at a candidate forum, Lowden criticized the new health-care reform law and laid out her preferred alternatives. She asserted that "bartering is really good" and that people should "go ahead and barter with your doctor."
The candidate's staff quickly issued a statement suggesting that Lowden had meant to say "haggle" instead of "barter," and that the idea was to offer to pay in cash if medical providers would agree to lower the price. This would make going to the doctor a bit like buying a used car -- except that an essential step in the haggling process is threatening to walk away, which would be difficult if your problem was a broken leg. But at least this wasn't as crazy as what came next.
Last week, in a television interview, Lowden insisted that no, she hadn't misspoken, she meant actual bartering. "Let's change the system and talk about what the possibilities are," she said. "I'm telling you that this works. You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor. They would say I'll paint your house. . . . I'm not backing down from that system."
Reid's campaign promptly e-mailed the YouTube video of Lowden's statement to reporters, under the subject line: "Seriously . . . Has Sue Lowden Lost Her Mind?" Democrats have been having great fun with the "chickens for check-ups" idea ever since -- how many chickens for a colonoscopy, what procedures might a goat pay for, that sort of thing.
Lowden's campaign even passed along a testimonial from a doctor who claimed he had "bartered with patients -- for alfalfa hay, a bathtub, yardwork and horseshoeing in exchange for my care." But on Tuesday, Lowden finally gave up and retreated to the taken-out-of-context defense, which is where politicians go when they realize they said something stupid.