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December 22, 2014

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How the race has turned sour for Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle is dead, one in an occasional series:

With Angle’s hot air balloon leaking helium about as rapidly as oil left that Gulf well — 45 days and counting and the GOP Senate nominee still has not plugged it — the question is whether she can survive the fall to earth.

At least three polls I know of show Angle trailing Harry Reid, including Friday’s Mason-Dixon survey that has the Senate majority leader ahead, 44-37, outside the margin of error. Even if you don’t believe one of the polls, the trend is inescapable and the race’s dynamic is fundamentally altered.

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.

“This suggests that Reid’s scorched-earth strategy of dropping a ton of negative advertising on Angle — in order to rapidly define her as extreme, dangerous and temperamentally unfit for the Senate before her campaign gets under way — may be working,” wrote Greg Sargent of The Washington Post after Friday’s release of the Mason-Dixon poll in the Anglephilic Las Vegas Review-Journal.

May be working? That’s like saying the attempt to Swiftboat John Kerry was mildly effective.

It has been nothing short of devastating. Angle’s negatives are at Reid-like levels or thereabouts and in five weeks, Reid has done what he had to do. But this isn’t just about Reid’s relentless, ruthless machine, folks.

As Politico’s Ben Smith wrote after the Mason-Dixon release, one “seasoned observer” of Nevada politics e-mailed him with this tart observation:

“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 (expletive) by the state and national Republicans to allow Angle to get nominated.”

That may be a little harsh. But does anyone else remember Sue Lowden saying over and over that she was the only one who could beat Reid?

The Mason-Dixon poll is the first public survey of the cycle to show Reid with a lead clearly outside the margin of error. As I have said before, those polls have been criticized because of their methodology, and their margins of victory in the state’s two major races right before the primary were off by about 100 percent.

Yes, primaries are notoriously hard to poll. But who knows if Mason-Dixon had the right turnout model for the general, so perhaps the margin is even greater or the race is much closer.

But campaigns are all about ebb and flow, and if the perception persists here and in D.C. that Angle is fading, Reid will apply a tourniquet to Angle’s fundraising, which was superb in the second quarter and beat him by $200,000.

Common sense indicates that Reid can’t do better than a 7-point lead. One caller to KNPR’s “State of Nevada” on Friday said, “We loathe Harry Reid,” and added she would rather “vote for an alien from Area 51.”

The “Even an ET is better than Harry” crowd surely is populous. But instead of wondering if Reid can get into the low 40s and hang on, we are now left musing as to whether Angle can do so.

She really has only one chance, and that is to focus on the economy — depressing unemployment numbers are expected again Monday — and hope outside groups will continue to help. American Crossroads, the Karl Rove/Ed Gillespie creation, seems invested and its ads are well done and could be effective.

There remain many wild cards with this much time left — a double-dip, Reid’s lips, Angle’s flips. But the one statement Angle doesn’t want to hear from any of her skittish new friends in Washington — and a series of bad polls could do it — is this one:

The race is lost.

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