Reid On The Rise: How Sharron Angle’s Rough Month Put Harry Reid Back On Top

July 19, 2010 5:36 a.m.

Harry Reid is back — maybe. Or perhaps it’s just that his opponent, former state Rep. Sharron Angle, is taking herself down.

Earlier this year, Reid seemed like a sure goner. Unemployment in Nevada was sky high. The bad economy had especially damaged Nevada’s tourism base. (The latest statistics this morning show an unemployment rate of 14.2%.) The state’s voters seemed very unhappy with the Senate Majority Leader. He lagged in the polls. And it looked like he would face a tough challenge in November from former state GOP chair Sue Lowden.

And now? Reid’s back on top in the polls. And his challenger, Angle, has made a series of unforced errors that seem to be hurting her campaign, and helping Reid’s.Angle won the Republican primary despite polls generally showing her to be the weakest potential GOP candidate. She largely has Lowden to thank. The former state GOP chair had a rather amusing self-destruction after encouraging the use of barter in order to lower health care costs, pining for the days when her grandparents’ generation would bring a chick to the doctor.

And now recent polls have shown Reid running ahead or closing the gap against Angle, who’s made a number of gaffes of her own. There’s a Dem poll giving Reid a four-point lead. Jon Ralston, one of the top political reporters in the state, called that poll “ominous news for Angle, if those numbers are right – and I bet Republicans know they are.”

On top of that, a new Mason-Dixon survey shows Reid up seven points — a 10-point swing from last month, when Angle led by three. Furthermore, Rasmussen shows the trend in Reid’s favor. On June 9, Angle led by 11. A month later, on July 12, that lead had shrunk to three.

The TPM Poll Average currently gives Reid a narrow edge of 42.8%-42.6% — the first time this year that Reid has led in this composite at all. In fact, take a look at the graph. As you can see, Reid is rebounding just slightly, but Angle is taking a serious dive, illustrating how the nature of Reid’s comeback has come from Angle’s errors:

So what could have caused all this? Well, let’s take a look at some of the more interesting attacks and gaffes that have come up:

• Reid’s campaign focused heavily on Angle’s previous statements during the primary that she wanted to “phase out” Social Security and Medicare, a position that Angle later toned down in an interview with Ralston.

• Angle also came under intense scrutiny for a pre-primary statement about the idea of people invoking their “Second Amendment remedies” as a check on the government, and to “take out” Reid. She also backed away from that one in the Ralston interview, saying she was “speaking broadly” and not encouraging revolution.

• Angle’s campaign threatened legal action against Team Reid, on the basis of intellectual property infringement, for reposting her old campaign website that had much stronger versions of her stances — an act that only called attention to the very stances she was trying to keep out of the spotlight. This position put Angle in a strange spot, from a First Amendment standpoint, seemingly trying to suppress an attack against her as a candidate for office. Angle later reversed herself, saying she was “glad” that Reid posted it. But not before the media focused on the story for a week.

• Angle has also had a pattern of giving interviews almost entirely to conservative media only, and avoiding more mainstream outlets. In a recent interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, she openly admitted why: The mainstream media won’t let her ask viewers for money.

• The Republican nominee bashed the $20 billion BP escrow account that was set up to pay damages claims resulting from the oil spill, claiming it was a “slush fund.” She quickly walked that statement back, but the damage was done. The DNC and President Obama have both since ripped Angle over the comment.

And through it all, Team Reid has seemed pleased as punch with Angle’s mistakes, hitting her in ads (like this one and this one), and sending out a number of email blasts seizing on each latest Angle gaffe.

Jon Ralston, one of Nevada’s top political reporters, wrote this over the weekend:

Coming up on the 100-day mark until the election — and only three months until early voting starts — Reid remains manifestly unpopular, with more than half of those surveyed indicating they will not vote for him. But his strategy of driving people away from Angle and into either a “none of the above” posture or a oh-how-it-pains-me-to-vote-for-him stance has worked to perfection.

Make no mistake: I doubt the Reid folks are unfurling a “Mission Accomplished” banner in their headquarters. There may be one that says, “It’s about Angle, stupid.” Or: “Duct tape his mouth, stupid.”

But Reid, who lost a U.S. Senate race by a few hundred votes in 1974 and won one by a few hundred votes in 1998, knows that the most famous Yogi Berraism applies. But even if it ain’t over and won’t be until Nov. 2, what has happened since the primary has astounded observers near and far.

Here’s what “a seasoned observer of the state’s politics” emailed Ben Smith about the developments in Nevada, including the Mason-Dixon poll:

They’ve run a textbook campaign for an incumbent in trouble, and i don’t see Angle stopping that slide. She did get a good money number this week, but this poll is going to scare off money as well. A total f*** up by the state and national Republicans to allow Angle to get nominated.

Granted it hasn’t been all bad news for Angle. Since she won the GOP primary, Angle has been able to consolidate Republican support and raise money at a faster pace than Reid. On the other hand, she still lags behind Reid in cash-on-hand by a 5-1 ratio.

So let’s see how this race turns out. It’s going to be a long — and likely highly entertaining — path to November. But there’s no question: Reid is in much, much better shape than he was just a month or two ago, and he has his opponent to thank for it.

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