Harry Reid's strategy, and Sharron Angle's path to victory

Posted on June 15, 2010

Last week, Internet ads started appearing on conservative Web sites attacking Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle. A group calling itself the "Patriot Majority" -- replete with a logo of a Minuteman holding a musket -- declared Angle "Nevada's WORST legislator!" and a "professional politician" who is in the pocket of Wall Street. An attack from Tea Party detractors on the right? Quite the opposite. The Patriot Majority was formed by a former spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid and is funded by organized labor. Why would Reid supporters use a faux Tea Party group to attack his opponent? It gets to the heart of Reid's reelection strategy. To win, he must divide the Republican nominee from her electoral base.

A new Rasmussen poll shows Angle leading Reid by 50 to 39 percent. How does Reid reverse that 11-point margin? Answer: He does not have to. The highest Reid has been in any poll this election cycle is 43 percent. But as one Nevada GOP operative not involved in the Senate race told me, "Reid can win with 43percent." He simply has to drive Angle's support down enough so he can squeak by with a plurality of the vote.

Reid has done it before. In 1998, he narrowly won reelection with a plurality of 47.9 percent, defeating then-Rep. John Ensign by just 421 votes. In that race, a libertarian candidate pulled 1.8 percent (about 8,000 votes), a Natural Law Party candidate pulled .65 percent (about 2,900 votes) and 1.8 percent of voters cast their ballots for "none of the above" (another roughly 8,000 votes). It was enough to give Reid a razor-thin victory.

This year, Reid has a much steeper hill to climb. In October 1998, after months of negative ads from Ensign, Reid's unfavorable rating reached 36 percent. Today, his unfavorable rating is at 52 percent -- and that is before the barrage of negative ads has begun. But Reid has other factors working in his favor. As he pointed out last week, there could be as many as eight candidates on the general election ballot this time around (nine if you count the "none of the above" option, which currently gets as much as 6 percent support). This includes four independent candidates, a candidate from the right-wing Independent American Party and a self-proclaimed Tea Party candidate.

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