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September 20, 2014

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Harry Reid ladling the attack on Sharron Angle in Senate race

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

At the start of the general election campaign, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to have a focused one-two punch that was putting his Republican opponent Sharron Angle on her heels and out of front-runner status.

Right hook: Angle won’t create jobs and she’ll eliminate benefits for the jobless.

Left-hand jab: She’ll end Social Security.

That combination, backed by millions in television advertising, spoke directly to the biggest issue on the minds of Nevada voters suffering from the collapse of the economy.

Reid quickly erased the 11-point lead that Angle had as she emerged from the primary. In fact, within a month, Reid had opened a lead over Angle as she scrambled to raise money and grow her operation.

But instead of just working that combination, Reid has added a bevy of side attacks to the rotation.

His ads have accused Angle of wanting to protect BP in the Gulf Coast oil spill, siding with domestic abusers, encouraging the development of a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain and inciting an armed revolt.

“It’s almost as if he has to justify paying for all of these opposition researchers,” quipped David Damore, a political scientist at UNLV.

Meanwhile, Angle has doggedly pursued her central line of attack: Reid is responsible for all of the state’s economic suffering.

Now, the race is neck and neck.

The latest polls show Nevada voters are deeply — and evenly — divided on whom to support in the race. And only a tiny number of voters remains undecided.

That means Reid’s strategy of nickel-and-diming Angle on different issues could work enough at the margins to eke out that slim victory he’s hoping for.

“It is a smart strategy when you have unlimited resources because a quarter of a percent of the electorate here and a half a percent there could be the difference between winning and losing,” Republican consultant Ryan Erwin said.

“It is an expensive way to address a problem, and it won’t have more than a trickle of an impact, but a trickle might be all Reid needs to survive,” he said.

Although Reid’s latest ads don’t necessarily appear to have a central message, his advisers say they all relate to one main theme: Angle is out of touch and too extreme for Nevadans.

Billy Vassiliadis, one of Reid’s closest advisers, said internal polling convinced the campaign that its Social Security and jobs message had resonated.

“Now we need to bring other proof points that she is too extreme for our voters,” Vassiliadis said.

Each one whittles away at another constituency — women, environmentalists, Yucca opponents.

“I just think they’ve got such a rich vein out there they really can’t resist,” Damore said. “If they can just keep showing issue after issue, they’ll cover everybody’s preferences.”

Although Reid has a pile of ammunition against Angle, she’s got the bigger gun. The economy and jobs are far and away the top issue for voters this campaign season, polls show.

And although voters are split on who to hold responsible for the economy, they are pretty well set in their opposition to Reid’s response to it as a member of Democratic leadership in Congress.

“Angle knows this is about the economy,” Erwin said. “Whoever this race is about is going to lose. If it’s about Sharron Angle being unqualified or extreme, she’s going to lose. If it’s about the economy and Harry Reid, he’s going to lose.”

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