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Déjà vu all over again, again and again
by Andrew Barbano
Oct 09, 2010 | 2056 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Moonhowler GOP senate frontrunner Sharron Angle’s encounter with a digital audio recorder last week made me realize that this year’s attempt to defrock U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has a scary number of historical parallels. Some are favorable to Reid, some not.

In 1952, the vaunted McCarran machine was at the peak of its power. Red-baiting U.S. Sen. Patrick McCarran, D-Nev., and his soul brother, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisc., had turned Hollywood and Washington upside down looking for commie traitors.

Reno financier Norman Biltz ran the McCarran operation from his offices at the First National Bank of Nevada building at Second and North Virginia streets, now the site of Harrah’s Ichiban restaurant. (I understand that “ichiban” loosely translated means “me first.” How’s that for an ironic echo?)

Until Harry Reid, Pat McCarran ranked as the most powerful politician Nevada had ever produced. U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, R-Nev. (1975-1987), ranks a weak third.

Biltz and McCarran controlled not only a U.S. Senate seat, but the big Irishman also felt he should have maximum clout over appointments by Republican Gov. Charles Russell.

McCarran had groomed one of the later legendary “McCarran Boys” to run against U.S. Sen. George “Molly” Malone, R-Nev., in the 1952 election. Former Nevada Attorney General (1943-51) Alan Bible had gone into private practice in McCarran’s own law firm. (Chillingly like State Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, employing current gubernatorial frontrunner Brian Sandoval. Some things never change.)

Then came Tom Mechling, an energetic young man married to a girl from Wells, who had once worked in Sen. McCarran’s D.C. office. Her dad had been a Democratic leader in tiny Wells.

Like Sharron Angle, Mechling and his spouse knocked on doors all over the state and upset Mr. Bible by 475 votes in the Democratic primary. McCarran was apoplectic.

Mechling’s momentum looked like it would carry him to victory. Malone had a lot of baggage and was a Republican with antique positions in a Democratic state.

Mechling asked Biltz for a meeting and he agreed. Biltz said he was “kind of enamored with the kid.”

However, the night before the meeting, Biltz received a phone call warning him that Mechling was trying to “frame” him. Biltz then had a tape recorder placed under his desk. Mechling bought radio time after the meeting charging that Biltz had tried to buy him off. Biltz played the tape for media. Thereon was Mechling asking to be bought.

A few days ago, Mrs. Angle had a meeting with Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian, who recorded it and released it to the media.Thereon, Angle was heard trashing the Republican Party and making rumblings about cutting a deal with Ashjian to drop out of the race in exchange for access to powerful GOP senators in Washington.

Raggio shortly crossed party lines to endorse Reid against Angle, who Raggio had narrowly defeated for re-election to his state senate seat in 2008.

Sen. McCarran endorsed Republican Malone, who went on to beat Mechling by 2,722 votes in the 1952 general election. Bible was elected to the U.S. Senate two years later.

The highest profile race in 1972 brought other echoes of 1952 and offers lessons for today. First and strangest, Mechling hisself returned to Nevada and made noises about running again, but never filed.

In the Democratic primary, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Regent Jim Bilbray defeated 20-year U.S. Rep. Walter Baring, D-Nev., for Nevada’s lone congressional seat. Baring and Universit of Nevada, Reno Regent Fred Anderson endorsed unknown Republican David Towell, a Douglas County real estate agent, who won the general election with a little more help from President Richard the Rotten’s landslide over Sen. George McGovern, D-S.D.

This year, hot and cold running Republicans have endorsed Reid.

Will Harry Reid pull a Molly Malone like 1952? Will Angle emulate David Towell in 1972?

The decision will shortly be yours.

Send remembrances

Last Sunday’s column about the passing of Democratic stalwart Velma Bishop brought a lot of response. You can send remembrances of Velma and her late husband, Gail (Barbwire 20 Feb. 1994) to me at the e-mail address below, or to this newspaper. They will be posted in perpetuity at Awhile back, somebody hip to cyberstuff mused that once something’s up on the Internet, it’s there forever. In the day and age of ghoulish, onerous and egregious pay-for-publication-or-it’s-not-news-that-you-died newspaper obituaries, that’s good enough for me. For info about my campaign against paid obits, see

Goodbye, brother

Frank William Byrne Sr., IBEW Local 401/AFL-CIO, former executive

secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada/AFL-CIO, passed away on Sept. 18. A memorial service is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at O’Brien, Rogers & Crosby on Kietzke Lane in Reno.

To the San

Francisco Giants

Nothing short of a World Series rematch with the New York Yankees will do. Willie McCovey (like me) is getting way too old waiting to avenge Bobby Richardson’s catch in 1962.

Coming soon

The new season of Barbwire TV is just in time for an election near you. No stone will be left unturned (along with a few heads), some stones will be rolling (along with a few heads) while voters rock ‘n’ roll to the polls. Support the cause at

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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