Another Rand Paul?: The Tea Party Surge May Re-Elect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) by Gregory Hilton

PHOTO: Jon Ralston moderates a debate among Republican U.S. Senate candidates Sharron Angle, John Chachas, Chad Christensen, Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian at the KVBC studios in Las Vegas.

In two polls out today, former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R-NV) has taken the lead in Tuesday’s primary for the nomination to oppose U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). According to the Suffolk University survey, Angle has 33%, Danny Tarkanian 26% and former State Sen. Sue Lowden 25%. The DailyKos/Research 2000 poll has Angle leading with 34%, Lowden at 25% and Tarkanian with 24%.
Angle has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express, the Club for Growth and Gun Owners of America. Angle was receiving just 5% of the primary vote prior to the April 15th Tea Party endorsement which catapulted her candidacy and increased her support by 20% in one month.
The Republican website Red State has shifted it endorsement from Tarkanian to Angle, who will now win the primary. An Angle victory is a major concern for national Republican leaders. This seat is one of the best 2010 pick up opportunities for the GOP, but Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic expressed their concerns by saying:

If Republicans nominate Sharron Angle as their Senate nominee next week, could majority leader Harry Reid, beleaguered, fatigued, unpopular, pull off an upset win? You betcha. . . The pattern this cycle — Republicans find ideologically acceptable candidates, and then voters throw them out in favor of ‘authentic’ quirky newcomers.

Jim Geraghty in National Review expressed similar sentiments:

Ultimately, this is a choice for Nevada Republicans; if they conclude that Angle’s no-holds-barred conservatism is what they want to represent them, they’re free to make that choice. But they shouldn’t be surprised to see 70-year-old Harry Reid doing cartwheels shortly thereafter.
The Senate majority leader has spent more than $8 million so far in this campaign, with little effect on his lousy poll numbers, but he could spend large chunks of his remaining $9 million or so on television advertising painting Angle as a beer-banning, felon-massaging, tax-hiking FEC scofflaw. Will that be enough to save Harry Reid in a state with high unemployment, the state hardest hit by the housing crash? Perhaps not, but he clearly prefers his odds against Angle to those against the other options.

Similar to Rand Paul in Kentucky, an Angle victory would be regarded as a tremendous triumph for the Tea Party movement. An April 4th headline in the New York Times said “Tea Party Groups Make Harry Reid Target #1.” However, there is also the real possibility that both Rand Paul and Sharron Angle could be defeated in the November election.
The April 4th Rasmussen poll gave Lowden a 15% lead over Reid, while Angle had an 11% lead and Tarkanian was ahead by 7%. The problem is that Angle’s controversial views have been largely ignored by the news media because she was in third place. The scrutiny will be instantly intense if she wins Tuesday’s primary. Senator Reid has been issuing daily press releases attacking Lowden, but he has kept silent about Angle.
Senator Reid’s has a 23% approval rating while 53% disapprove of the Majority Leader. President Obama has a 58% disapproval rating and 62% of voters want to repeal the health care bill. Obama carried Nevada in 2008 by a 55% to 43% margin. Reid has $9.6 million in cash on hand, and is promising a $25 million campaign budget.
To win in Nevada, a Republican has to attract conservative Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans. Sharron Angle has taken many rigid ideological stands which are now helping her in the primary, but they are ammunition for Reid in a general election. A story about Angle in the current issue of Time magazine is titled “The Woman Who Can Save Harry Reid.”
A May 24th editorial in the Las Vegas Sun noted:

Former Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt (R-NV) summed up the feeling at Saturday’s Conservative Leadership Conference, ‘It’s kinda nice to preach to the choir.’ Hunt went on to castigate Democrats in Washington as ‘the enemy that lies within.’ It’s fun to preach to the choir and rail against the other party as ‘the enemy,’ but it doesn’t win elections. That is a fact Republicans might want to keep in mind as they watch U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle surge in the polls.
“Sue Lowden repeatedly says Angle is not electable and Republican voters should take heed, and look to Rand Paul’s experience as they consider Angle. Paul overcame the Republican establishment in Kentucky to win the Senate primary there, and that’s when the problems began. Once in the spotlight, questions arose about his positions. Kentucky is one of the few states where Paul’s not-ready-for-prime-time performance wouldn’t be fatal.
“But Nevada Republicans might consider how Angle and her record as the most conservative legislator in recent Nevada history would play in a state that went for candidate Barack Obama by 12 points. Democrats have a 65,000-voter edge, which is down but still substantial. A revealing facet of the Angle boomlet has been the Reid campaign’s silence — he can’t wait to run against her.
“The conservative choir isn’t big enough to win in November. If a Republican defeats Reid, it will be with the support of unaffiliated voters, and even some of those enemy Democrats.”

Among other key considerations in the GOP primary on June 8th are:

  • Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) also has the Tea Party endorsement but the polls show him losing the GOP nomination in a landslide to ex-Judge Brian Sandoval (45%-27%). Gibbons will be the first Nevada Governor in history to lose a primary.
  • Angle also had the Club for Growth endorsement in the 2006 Republican primary which she lost to Rep. Dean Heller. She also came up short in her 2008 primary challenge to State Senate Majority Leader William Raggio (R).
  • Sharron Angle portrays herself as a taxpayer champion but Lowden claims “Angle is everything the Tea Party is against.” Lowden is attacking Angle for supporting budget increases and pay raises. Despite Angle’s initial denials, it now is evident she did vote to raise her legislative pay in both 2001 and 2005.
  • Lowden is also running TV ads attacking Angle’s alleged connections to the Church of Scientology. The same ad notes Angle was named “one of Nevada’s worst legislators” by the Las Vegas Review-Journal several times since 1999.
  • Senator Reid is certain to highlight Angle’s 2005 interview where she expresses reservations about the legalization of alcohol. Prohibition would be a very unpopular stand in Nevada.
  • Angle says the Department of Education is unconstitutional, and she wants the United States to completely withdraw from the United Nations. She is willing to give up America’s veto power in the Security Council.
  • Angle supports reprocessing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. An admirable case can be made about the importance of Yucca Mountain for America’s energy security, but it is a very unpopular position in Nevada. No recent candidate advocating the Yucca Mountain project has ever been elected statewide in Nevada. This is the one project which has bolstered Harry Reid back home.
  • The Our Nation PAC hosted a joint fundraiser for both Angle and California Senate candidate Chuck DeVore. Both candidates were present, and DeVore favors pulling all U.S. conventional forces out of Afghanistan.
  • Many libertarians are supporting Angle because of Lowden’s role as state GOP Chairman. Lowden took the lead in denying delegate spots to Ron Paul supporters in the 2008 campaign.
  • Danny Tarkanian was defeated in his 2004 and 2006 campaigns and has never held elective office. He is an isolationist who is critical of the U.S. role in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He says a U.S. withdrawal “will bring our service men and women home to their families, out of harms way. Finding a way of reducing the United States military presence overseas, while still aggressively pursuing our enemies, must be a priority for our government.”
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