From Toast To Trending Up — GOP’s Nevada Primary Scramble Helping Reid

June 3, 2010 9:33 a.m.

Tuesday’s GOP primary election may once have been a dreaded day on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s calendar, but as the Republicans he’d been trailing in polls stumble over one another and trade barbs over who is more conservative, things are looking a little brighter for the embattled senator.

A new poll shows Reid (D-NV) beating each of the potential Republican challengers who once held solid leads over him. Sue Lowden, the one-time Washington favorite, self-destructed over some ill-timed health care barter comments just as her rivals Sharron Angle and Danny Tarkanian started to rise. Angle, the new conservative darling of the tea party and Washington groups like the Club for Growth, holds a 9-point lead heading into the primary. She and Lowden have been attacking one another as trailing Tarkanian is mainly running on a tough illegal immigration stance thanks in part to the immigration fight brewing next door in Arizona.

The Nevada primary is a microcosm of a trend playing out across the country, where national Republicans are attempting to harness the energy of the tea party without being pummeled by its anti establishment sentiment. (See Bennett, Bob.) That’s the dynamic at work with Angle, who earned an April endorsement from the more corporate Tea Party Express. Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund hasn’t picked a side, but activists involved have spoken favorably about both Angle and Tarkanian while saying Lowden is too tied to Washington.Mason-Dixon had Reid trailing all three Republicans by margins of two-13 points in February. In April he was at best tied and at worst trailing the GOPers by 10 points — due to vote-splitting by a “Tea Party” candidate. But in May, Mason-Dixon had Reid in dead heats with all the Republicans.

The Daily Kos/Research 2000 polls told a similar story in January but the latest poll out today has Reid ahead of all three.

Lowden once seemed poised to get the nomination, but got herself in trouble by saying she’d prefer a barter system for health care, even going as far as to say her grandparents’ generation used to swap chickens for checkups. (See TPM’s reel of the clucking shenanigans here.) Lowden has also been attacked by her fellow Republicans over the fact that she donated to Harry Reid himself, way back in the 1980’s.

Ted Jelen, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, chalked Reid’s gains up as being the Republicans’ losses but predicted it will be close this fall since Reid remains in the low 40s. Jelen said there are so few undecideds, “I would bet that he’s gonna win, but it wouldn’t be a large bet.” Tuesday’s winner will get a boost he said, adding, “The battle lines are pretty well drawn. I don’t see a lot of persuasion going on between now and November.”

The Las Vegas Review Journal today detailed the Lowden-Angle battle, with the paper characterizing the onetime front runner as going on offense to say she’s the best candidate to unseat Reid this fall. Angle, meanwhile, has hunkered down and is playing to her conservative base by calling Lowden a tax-raiser.

Angle is getting some help from Reid on that front, in the form of a new television spot funded by Patriotic Majority, described by the Review-Journal as a political action committee run by a former Reid staffer. The ad goes after Lowden’s actions in the state senate, saying “Sue’s record on taxes is out of touch and outrageous,” and focusing on a 1995 measure she sponsored that would have charged $100 for the burial of noncombat veterans in Nevada’s veterans cemeteries.

The same group, of course, made sure to keep Chickengate in the headlines. Lowden told reporters that it’s “desperate and pathetic that Harry Reid and his liberal allies have attacked me,” the Review-Journal reported. (Reid protests he has nothing to do with that PAC.)

The Reno Gazette reports that Lowden filed a Federal Election Commission complaint accusing Angle of failing to disclose a flight she took on a supporter’s airplane. There is also yet another campaign finance allegation, that Lowden might have spent general-election funds on the primary.

Tarkanian said on MSNBC this morning he’s been the one to remain on message while Lowden and Angle turn the electorate off by attacking each other.

And don’t forget the official “Tea Party” candidate (actually reviled by tea partiers as a potential spoiler in November) Jon Ashjian. His business filed yesterday for bankruptcy.

Still, Reid sitting tight at below 50 percent this late in the election cycle is not a good sign historically for incumbents. A Republican pollster argues here that Reid hasn’t surged and “has not solved the problem voters have with him, not by a long shot.”

Additional reporting by Lucy Madison

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