That’s where Suzanne Pluskoski grew up, the product of Roman Catholic schooling and a single-mother who worked but did not have health insurance. Suzanne waitressed in her teens before making her way to Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross in Washington, D.C. She later graduated (magna cum laude) from American University.
How did she finance her education? With scholarships from winning beauty pageants. She won Miss D.C. in the Miss USA contest. Then she won Miss New Jersey, which took her all the way to third place in the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City.
It was during this period of fame that she was selected to join the Bob Hope 1971 Christmas Tour of Vietnam—which would be a life-changing experience, and not only because she became a Hope favorite. (He made her one of the show’s stars and strongly suggested she change her name—to Sue Plummer.)
She was fascinated by the work of television journalists following the tour, and that interest would land her an unpaid internship with a small TV station in Los Angeles. Her work there led to a job as a TV reporter and soon thereafter to celebrity as Nevada’s first woman news anchor.
Sue was a television natural—the Las Vegas Sun called her “one of the most professional news anchors in the nation”—and she had numerous opportunities to move to network jobs back East, but by then she was married (to Paul Lowden, a respected hotel/casino entrepreneur). She eventually left the demanding life of television for her four children and husband and the family business.
In 1991 the Nevada legislature passed the largest tax increase in the state’s history. The state senator in Sue Lowden’s district was the Democratic majority leader who had pushed for tax (and spending) increases. The next year she challenged him in an overwhelmingly Democratic district and won.
In the Nevada senate she was not afraid to challenge the status quo. She once was one of the few votes against a bloated pork spending bill. She called a committee majority “cowardly” for failing to pass a parental notification abortion bill. But she also was effective. She helped pass a workers compensation reform bill as well as a business flat tax reform measure. She became the Republican whip and chairman of the Senate taxation committee, where she blocked efforts for tax increases by simply not calling the committee into session.
In this period Paul Lowden suffered heated conflicts with the culinary union at his hotel. She was targeted by unions for defeat in 1996 and lost.
Lowden threw herself into a host of charitable causes, from the Muscular Dystrophy Association to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation to the Salvation Army to organizations helping severely challenged children. She also experienced the tragic death of one of her sons.
In 2007 she returned to politics as the state Republican chairman. There she earned the enmity of Ron Paul supporters by closing down a state convention rather than see Paul backers gain nominations to the 2008 GOP national convention. One of the reasons Lowden’s backers believe she will be tough enough to face the coming Harry Reid onslaught is she has proven politically fearless.
Even as Lowden has become the media favorite—she has appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio and television shows—to win the GOP nomination in the June primary, yet another candidate has emerged with potential. He is John Chachas, a wealthy New York investment banker and former Paul Laxalt intern who has thrown himself and a million dollars of his own money into the race.
Chachas grew up in rural Nevada but has lived in the East since and has yet to move his wife and children back to the Silver State. He has another problem that in other places would be a campaign stopper. In 2007 he maxed out to candidate Barack Obama, which he tries to explain away by saying he did so to get his Obama friends to give to his candidate, Mitt Romney.
Of course, early in Harry Reid’s career Sue and Paul Lowden contributed to his campaigns, but they argue that was a different time—and a different Harry Reid.
As if Reid didn’t have enough problems, his eldest son Rory is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination for governor. This means there will be two Reids on the Nevada ballot this fall. This appearance of a budding dynasty is not good news for either one. As one Republican quipped to the Washington Post, “Two Reids don’t make a right.”