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CAMPAIGN 2010 | AROUND THE NATION

Angle has Reid on tenterhooks in Nev. race

By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / October 14, 2010

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CARSON CITY, Nev. — Clad in cowboy hats and boots, waving American flags, and hoisting signs with slogans such as, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,’’ some 150 Tea Party movement enthusiasts greeted Republican US Senate nominee Sharron Angle in this dusty frontier city.

At the entrance to the rally Monday next to Pony Express Pavilion, 70-year-old Judy Vanover waved a sign: “Axis of Evil: Obama, Reid, Pelosi.’’

Such outrage and enthusiasm have placed Harry Reid, the most powerful Democrat in the US Senate, in danger of losing his seat to Angle, a petite grandmother and former schoolteacher.

For Angle, it has been a remarkable journey. A former member of the state Assembly, she won an upset victory over the Republican establishment candidate in the primary, even as she was being written off by some observers as unelectable because of the depth of her conservative views. She wants to eliminate the Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency and phase out Social Security.

Since then, Angle has done anything but fade away.

Her quest to unseat Reid in Nevada, which has the nation’s highest jobless and foreclosure rates, has become a powerful vehicle for anger directed at President Obama; the Senate majority leader, Reid; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A poll this week suggests that Angle is pulling ahead of Reid, 49 percent to 48 percent.

In a testament both to Angle’s political staying power and to the Republicans’ view that unseating Reid would be one of their greatest feats in the midterm elections, her campaign announced this week that she raised $14 million in the past three months alone.

“I’d say that for Nevada, that shatters every record,’’ said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Reid, a 24-year-incumbent, appeared a little unnerved at a campaign rally this week, acknowledging the anger but asking voters in a Las Vegas high school gym to stick with him.

“We need to get back on our feet, and we’re going to do that,’’ he said. “Everyone has to be patient. We’ve done some really good things, but we have so much more to do.’’

It is a message that he and other Democrats have sounded for months across the country, but polls have indicated it’s not working. So Reid, like other Democrats trying to hold onto their seats as the nation recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, has turned to a blunter tool in his arsenal: personal attacks that portray Angle as unfit for office. A recent Web ad asserts, “She’s too extreme for any rational person on the planet and should not be a United States senator.’’

The two will face off tonight in their first and only debate, and with the polls so tight, analysts say, the event could be a pivotal point in the race.

The race has already been one of the most contentious of the midterm elections, with both sides unleashing millions of dollars worth of attack ads. Angle has accused Reid of voting to give sexual offenders Viagra and illegal immigrants tax breaks. Reid and groups supporting his candidacy have asserted that Angle voted against background checks for sex offenders volunteering with church youth groups.

In perhaps the most memorable ad, an outside group supporting Reid suggested that if Angle is elected, a nuclear accident will occur and threaten millions of Nevadans because she supports a nuclear waste processing site near Las Vegas.

Political scientists say the candidates are focusing so much on each other because they are not natural campaigners on the issues.

“Neither of the candidates is particularly likable,’’ said David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Angle garnered national headlines this year for saying insurance companies should not be required to cover autism or routine mammograms. She also has said that government entitlement programs such as unemployment benefits have spoiled Americans.

Reid has come across as stiff and socially awkward at public events. At a fund-raiser last month, he called Kirsten Gillibrand of New York the “hottest’’ US senator. Last year, he apologized for saying in 2008 that Obama could become the first black president because he is “light-skinned’’ and has “no Negro dialect.’’

Damore said Reid spent “a great deal of time and money’’ earlier this year trying to re-introduce himself and his accomplishments to voters here in Nevada, but his favorability ratings remain low.

“Realizing that, he went negative on her, and it’s been nothing but negative ever since,’’ he said. “She’s done the same.’’

At the rally in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Reid fidgeted on a stool, rarely smiling, as former president Bill Clinton extolled the virtues of current economic policies and said it would be “unbelievably negligent’’ to vote for Angle instead of Reid.

“So far he’s been treated to this unbelievable abuse by people saying: ‘I don’t care . . . I’m going to vote against Harry, I’m just mad,’ ’’ Clinton said. “But . . . if you forget about politics any time in your life, and you make an important decision when you’re mad, there’s an 80 percent chance you’re going to make a mistake.’’

As the more than 1,000 people filed out of the Valley High School gym after the rally, a Reid campaign worker urged them to take lawn signs to put in front of their houses. There were not a lot of takers. A laid-off garbage truck driver said he is still planning to vote for Reid, although reluctantly.

“He’s not the best, but he’s the best we’ve got,’’ 29-year-old Marcos Crespo said.

“Pick your poison,’’ added his friend, Mike Martinez, a welder who is also out of work.

Nevada’s unemployment rate is 14.4 percent, well above the national average of 9.6 percent. And more than 13,000 homes in Nevada — one in every 84 — received foreclosure notices in August alone, according to RealtyTrac.

At the rally in Carson City, Angle hammered hard on the economy.

“We know that the simple solutions are these: We just have to cut back on the spending, pay back on the debt, and take back our economy by repealing some of the most awful policies that our nation has ever seen in the last 20 months,’’ Angle said to boisterous applause. “I need your help . . . The nation is counting on us.’’

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@DonovanSlack.