The general election race for the Senate in Nevada began about a half-second after Sharron Angle won the Republican nomination, and one thing was immediately clear: This would be a national spectacle even if Harry Reid were not the majority leader of the U.S. Senate.
Get ready to re-experience every ill-advised remark Reid has ever made, and get familiar with every odd position Angle has ever taken. Trust me, there is no shortage of either. This is a choice between someone who has said Capitol tourists smell and President Obama has "no Negro dialect," and someone who laments that alcohol is legal, wants to withdraw from the United Nations and would deep-six a good chunk of the federal government. Already the race is on to define each candidate as more out of touch that the other.
Beyond entertainment value, the Nevada contest has deeper significance in that it could become the iconic clash of 2010. That's because these candidates are near-perfect symbols of the larger forces shaping politics today. Reid is the Washington insider and powerbroker, the very face of "the establishment" and the sometimes ugly deal-cutting that gets things done. Angle is the unyielding conservative embraced by anti-tax, anti-spending groups that admire her state legislative record of resisting compromise and sticking to principle.
The former state assemblywoman shot ahead of two rivals in the final weeks of the campaign after an influx of cash and organizing muscle from the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth. Angle also benefited from the collapse of Sue Lowden, a former state senator and party chairwoman who insisted she would have been the stronger candidate against Reid. The onetime front-runner ran such a bumbling campaign under barely any pressure that it's hard to imagine her having survived general-election hardball against Reid, his allies and the Democratic campaign infrastructure. But it's no secret that Reid advisers -- and even some Republicans -- considered Angle an easier target. That's why the Reid campaign spent so much time going after Lowden
Many Republicans may go for Angle simply to oust Reid, who had an approval rating
of 38 percent in one poll this year. As a Senate leader, Reid has been tarred by the controversial agendas of two presidents -- the bank bailout under George W. Bush, and the stimulus package and health reform bill under Obama. The recession, meanwhile, has taken an especially cruel toll on his state. Nevada has been a national leader in foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment (currently at a record 13.7 percent).
Reid does bring home the bacon, as even some Republicans will concede privately and as his website
prominently points out ("25,446 Nevadans received $186,224,568 in credits from the 1st-time homebuyer tax credit program in the last 2 years"). But pork and influence are not enough these days, as senators Arlen Specter and Bob Bennett found out when they failed to win their parties' nominations.
Then there are the "stupid things" Reid says, in Damore's blunt phrase. Mary Cheney
, for one, started a Send Harry Packing PAC and already has run a TV ad
featuring some of his greatest hits (including "You could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol"). The National Republican Senatorial Committee features a whole "gaffes" section at its Wrong Way Reid
website and quickly shot out 15 bizarre statements on Tuesday, some complete with YouTube links. The NRSC also blast-emailed a memo in which Chairman John Cornyn of Texas declared Nevada a "prime pick-up opportunity
" for the GOP. He painted a dismal picture of the state and called on voters there to hold Reid accountable.
The good news for Reid is that with Angle as his opponent, the race already is as much about her as it is about him. "Sharrontology is the new buzzword," Nevada pundit Jon Ralston
tweeted early Wednesday morning. "The marginalization campaign has begun. Can Angle survive assault?" A new website from ProgressNow Nevada, The Wrong Angle
, launched with the candidate's comments on alcohol and her lone vote against a property tax cap (in her view it was unconstitutional
Angle has many other positions that could prove unpopular, such as wanting to eliminate the Energy and Education departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. She also would privatize Social Security and make Nevada a center for reprocessing nuclear waste. Then there are her Scientology connections
and support for a drug treatment program involving massages and saunas for prisoners.
Some of these positions had been available on Angle's website, but the site was non-existent Wednesday morning except for a welcome screen request for contributions. According to a Republican strategist, the site was taken down as part of a "previously scheduled plan to revamp and improve" it. We await the new, improved and possibly less controversial site, and a race that promises to be riveting.