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December 21, 2014

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It’s hard to dodge the candidates’ verbal gaffes

Either Harry Reid or Sharron Angle is dead, one in an occasional series:

So as Angle tries to phase out memories of her wanting to privatize Social Security and Reid attempts to phase out the heretical concept of Hispanic Republicans, the five-month race (no pit stops allowed) to November continues in the “what I meant to say” contest for the U.S. Senate.

Just when you thought, with Bartergate and Scientology and Negro dialects, that we had seen it all in this race, look what gifts were bestowed recently: Both candidates revising history (Angle on Social Security, Reid on “the war is lost”), Marco Rubio, of all people, putting in his two cents; Dick Morris curling toes with a ‘Do you hate Harry Reid like I hate Harry Reid” fundraising pitch for Angle; and Tea Party of Nevada hopeful Jon Scott Ashjian reappearing as the unwanted dinner guest (but is he a schmuck or a factor?).

Look upon these works, ye national media types, and be envious.

The state of this ever-in-flux race is that the well-oiled Reid/Democratic Party/Patriot Majority machine continues to whir along, but the creaking Angle vehicle finally has had an application of the political equivalent of WD-40. The ads are better and more focused, the communications team is in place and getting better, and the spend-it-all-now-to-get-more-later approach is the only one they have (with hopes the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads will play cavalry come September/October).

The flaps this week over Social Security and Hispanics were emblematic of these campaigns.

Angle’s new ad, in which she talks about how she wants to save the program on its 75th anniversary and accuses Reid of raiding the trust fund, is quite well done. It’s also totally disingenuous.

Before June 8, The Primary Angle talked about phasing out the program and privatizing it, insisting when pressed that it could not be fixed. The General Angle is trying to stop the chattering of elder teeth by reassuring them no one will lose benefits and that she is the agent of their salvation. Not credible, but is it possible people will buy the ad? Need I answer?

Reid’s “Hispanics would be fools to be Republicans” comment was his typical glib, poorly phrased broadside, made worse by coming one day after his campaign foamed at the mouth about Angle snubbing Latino media. The Reid folks actually didn’t want Angle to get too much credit for actually holding a press availability, so they seized on the no-Hispanics-were-there, ahem, angle and got some local and national bites. And then the senator undermined it all with his clumsy phrasing, which the campaign then reinforced with a lame fix-it clarification, bringing the likes of Rubio and others to lacerate Reid for his Democrats-only apostasy.

(Hard not to savor the delicious irony, too: Brian Sandoval, a Hispanic Republican who Reid happily helped get appointed to the federal bench because he feared his future ambitions, is well ahead of the senator’s son — just call him Rory — in the governor’s race. I am sure Rory wishes Sandoval weren’t a Hispanic Republican right about now.)

The bottom line: Both campaigns know they have a problem — i.e., Angle and Reid still possess vocal chords. They can only hope that what The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza aptly described as “unwanted distractions” don’t become campaign-defining moments. Hispanics are no more likely to flock to Angle, who is an anchor-baby-hating-Arizona-law-loving candidate, because of Reid’s gaffe. But does his comment reinforce the perception of a guy who is simply grown old, out of touch and careless in D.C. after nearly three decades? Maybe.

I was amused to read National Review Online’s Jim Geraghty praise the new Angle strategy this week and correctly distill the Reid plan: “Define Angle early, destroy her reputation in an onslaught of negative ads, and eke out a victory in a low-turnout matchup.” Yes, although he missed the attempt to push voters into “none of these candidates” or to Ashjian, who may yet be kicked off the ballot, but now claims he is ready to wage a competitive campaign, mostly on the Internet.

But Geraghty also wrote that Reid “finds himself with only one remaining advantage: money.”

Not exactly.

Reid also will benefit from a Democratic Party infrastructure and get-out-the-vote effort erected in 2007 that he will need to make up for a palpable, measurable enthusiasm gap. Meanwhile, the state GOP and Team Angle? They have no ground game and are trying to create one from scratch.

If Reid wins, it is this advantage that will be decisive; if he loses, it will mean people refused to be dragged out of their homes to vote for him.

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