Harry Reid’s Campaign Against Sharron Angle Having An Impact
Harry Reid has spent the summer trying to portray is opponent as a kook. So far, it's working.
When Sharron Angle won the Republican Senate nomination in Nevada, it quickly became clear that Harry Reid had been handed a gift. Despite being down in the polls, he was handed an opponent with a tendency for making bizarre comments and, as we’ve learned, a very bad idea of what the phrase “press relations” actually means. As The Washington Post notes this morning, Reid’s effort to brand Angle as outside the mainstream seems to be working:
Few places are as aptly named as a divey little bar in southwest Las Vegas called The Hammer.
That’s where the campaign brain trust of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D) unwinds over beer and nachos after long days spent trying to discredit his Republican opponent, former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle.
All summer long, Reid’s small army of young, eager staffers has bombarded Nevada voters with unflattering, sometimes distorted allegations about Angle. They have scoured old newspapers, government transcripts and video archives for anything she has said or done that might be turned against her. In television and radio ads, Reid’s aides have tried to create and then exploit perceptions that Angle is a dangerous reactionary.
It has not been especially difficult work. Angle, a “tea party” favorite, has said many controversial things in her years as a politician. A conservative who is deeply skeptical of government, she called for a phaseout of Social Security and proposed eliminating the departments of Education and Energy. Most recently, Reid claims to have uncovered information that links Angle to an obscure political movement called Christian Reconstructionism, which holds that government should rule according to biblical law.
“What this material shows is who Sharron Angle really is and what makes her tick,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.
It might also be said that the material shows who Harry Reid really is: how much money and manpower the powerful incumbent has to throw around (his campaign has $9 million in cash on hand); how far he is willing to go to turn voters against Angle; and how, as a result of his efforts, the unpopular senator has revived his chances of reelection in a year when most voters say they don’t want him in the Senate anymore.
Opposition research is standard operating procedure in modern politics. But for Reid, painting Angle as crazy has become an essential function of the campaign. The state’s soaring unemployment rate and his own lack of voter appeal have left him one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country.
He is gaffe-prone, as when he said recently that he didn’t know “how anyone of Hispanic origin could be a Republican.” And in an anti-incumbent year, Reid has chosen not to run on his credentials as one of Washington’s most powerful politicians. Instead, his campaign strategy has been to use his formidable resources to diminish his opponent rather than to promote himself.
Judging by the polls, the strategy seems to have worked in the sense that it’s created enough doubt about Angle in the minds of Nevada voters to give Reid a fighting chance he probably wouldn’t have had otherwise:
Moreover, Reid’s effort to portray Angle as, well, a kook, has had an impact on her campaign:
Angle, whose campaign was nearly broke after the primaries, was slow to respond to Reid’s attacks. With the help of new consultants and fundraisers, she raised more than $2 million. Her campaign is now punching back with “oppo” sheets that blast “King Harry” and his gaffes.
On Friday, Angle released a television ad in which she says she wants to save Social Security and accuses Reid of “raiding” the retirement fund for “his own pet projects.”
The ad was seen as an acknowledgment by Angle’s campaign that Reid’s attacks have been effective. But it also showed that Angle is willing to back away from some of her previous hard-line views in order to appeal to voters.
There’s a possibility, of course, that Reid’s attacks will backfire and Angle will be able to dodge his efforts to portray her as crazy, but, as I said back in June, anyone who counts Harry Reid out is fooling themselves.