Harry Reid vs. Sharron Angle Senate bout gets tighter - and nastier

With Democratic Sen. Harry Reid and Republican Sharron Angle flaying each other with negative ads in Nevada, both have unfavorability ratings of more than 50 percent.

Republican Sharron Angle and Democrat Harry Reid are virtually tied in their race for a US Senate seat in Nevada. Will the 'tea party' favorite be able to unseat the four-term Senate majority leader?

The closer Nevada’s US Senate race has gotten – and it couldn’t possibly be any closer now, according to new polling – the nastier it has become.

Incumbent Sen. Harry Reid (D) ties Republican challenger Sharron Angle to a rise in right-wing militias, warns that Ms. Angle “wants to privatize the Veterans Administration,” and says her position on abortion is that a teenage rape victim “should be forced to have the baby.” Some of his ads call her “crazy.”

Angle says Senator Reid voted “to give tax breaks to illegal aliens,” approves giving Viagra to sex offenders, and blames Reid for Nevada’s 14 percent unemployment rate. He is, she says, a “failed leader” who is “delusionally denying any responsibility for his actions.”

So is the bottom line for Nevadans a choice between “crazy” and “delusional”? One result of all the mudslinging is that both candidates have an unfavorability rating above 50 percent.

A Rasmussen Reports poll of likely voters this week has Reid winning 48 to 47 percent, which means they are statistically tied, given that the polls margin of error is 4 percent. A week ago, a poll by Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies had Reid ahead 45 to 40 percent (a lead greater than the margin of error).

The race is crucial to both parties. Ousting Senate majority leader Reid would be a major coup for the GOP, whether or not Republicans win back the Senate.

Angle holding tough

Back in midsummer, the nomination of Angle – who was favored by some (but not all) tea partyers in Nevada – seemed to be good news for Reid. She was easy to mock, if not paint as scary, for some of her impolitic statements – suggesting that there might have to be armed “Second Amendment remedies” for a Democratically controlled Congress, for example.

Not only has Angle hung on, she’s kept up with Reid in the polls even though he has more to spend on TV ads. And there may be hints of good news for her in the new Rasmussen poll. She’s inching ahead among women and independent voters.

The Reid campaign appears to be reacting to this. He is going after Angle on health issues that might be of particular interest to women – criticizing her vote as a state senator against making insurance companies pay for mammograms.

“Reid may be caught in a no-win situation,” writes blogger Brent Orrell at FrumForum.com. “He must continue attacking to rally his base but the ads he’s using may be hurting him with women and independents.”

A pox on both candidates?

But Reid may have one thing going for him, and that has to do with Nevada’s unique ballot allowing voters to select “none of these candidates” – in essence, a “pox on both their houses” protest vote.

In a Mason-Dixon poll, two-thirds of those who back Angle say they wish the GOP had nominated someone else, with just 18 percent of Reid backers saying that about their candidate.

“Reid’s strategy from Day 1 has been to push as many potential Angle voters into none-of-the-above as possible,” Jon Ralston, chief political reporter for The Las Vegas Sun, told columnist Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog. “That is why they’re running the campaign they’re running.”

Meanwhile, Reid and Angle both have been avoiding unscripted public appearances where they might get hammered with unfriendly questions. They appeared separately last week at a forum at a local Christian school, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “but the event ended with a fistfight between two female Reid backers and a male Angle supporter.”

For now, Reid and Angle are doing most of their own dueling via the airwaves. Just one debate is scheduled (Oct. 14). Organizers announced this week that they’re increasing security at the debate because of last week’s fisticuffs.

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