Sen. Harry Reid and Sharron Angle are locked in a dead heat, says a new poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KLAS-TV, Channel 8 that shows the GOP challenger regaining ground after going on the offensive with a TV ad blaming Reid for Nevada's deep economic troubles.
The high-profile contest with implications for President Barack Obama's agenda promises to be a bare-knuckled fight to the finish as voters decide between Reid's promise that the recovery is coming under Democrats and Angle's call for a new conservative fiscal direction, analysts said.
"This race is always going to be close," said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, which judges the contest a toss-up.
"It's a tough race for Reid, and it's also a tough race for Angle. Ultimately, if she wins, it means the race isn't about her; it's about the party in power."
The new survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research shows Reid and Angle neck and neck. The Senate majority leader would win 43 percent and Angle 42 percent of support from likely Nevada voters if the election were held now. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points on the statewide telephone survey of 625 registered voters taken Monday through Wednesday.
A July 12-14 Mason-Dixon poll showed Reid 7 points ahead of Angle, 44-37. It was the best showing for the four-term incumbent -- and the worst for Angle -- in a head-to-head matchup, according to a series of surveys for the Review-Journal since last year.
Angle's plunge happened after the Reid campaign pounded her in radio and TV ads and near daily attacks after the Tea Party favorite's stunning June 8 primary victory against establishment GOP candidates. The Reid campaign portrayed her as "extreme" and "dangerous," including for wanting to cut federal spending by eliminating agencies such as the education and energy departments.
The former Reno assemblywoman didn't respond to most attacks as her campaign struggled to expand and hire top-tier media and money advisers. They helped her finally go on the air with two ads since mid-July after raising $2.6 million in the last quarter, or more than Reid's $2.4 million.
As a result of the early barrage of attacks, Angle is now nearly as unpopular as Reid.
In the latest poll, both Reid and Angle won "favorable" ratings from 38 percent of voters. Reid was viewed unfavorably by 51 percent -- about where he has been for most of this year -- and Angle is now seen unfavorably by 47 percent. That's 4 percentage points higher than two weeks ago and nearly double what it was in June, just before she won the primary and ran into the Reid buzz saw.
Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon said he expects the race to remain close until late fall now that Angle is ramping up her campaign and as bad economic news continues to hurt Reid.
"At least for the moment, she seems to have stopped the bleeding," Coker said. "Reid had the airwaves to himself for a while, and he drove her numbers down with the advertising. But that didn't necessarily drive his numbers up. There hasn't been a lot of good news to hang his hat on."
Since the last poll, Nevada's record high unemployment jumped to 14.2 percent, something Angle highlights in her first general election ad that notes it was 4.4 percent when Reid became Senate majority leader five years ago. The state also has record high bankruptcy and home foreclosure rates with one in every 15 homes in vote-rich Las Vegas in foreclosure.
Angle's second TV ad shows her speaking with seniors, saying, "Government is not the solution to the problem. Government is the problem."
Reid's positive ads highlight hundreds of clean energy jobs he has helped bring to Nevada. One ad focuses on Reid's efforts to save CityCenter, which directly employs 8,000 workers, by calling banks to ensure continued financing for the $8.5 billion project. One of Reid's negative ads notes that Angle says she wouldn't have made calls to save CityCenter and that a U.S. senator doesn't create jobs.
Despite Reid's efforts, a vast majority of Nevada voters remain unhappy with Democratic leaders and the direction of the country, the poll shows, which hurts his chances of winning come Nov. 2.
Six out of 10 voters think the country is on the wrong track, while more than half disapprove of the job Obama is doing. Four out of 10 think his actions to stabilize the economy are hurting, while three in 10 believe they are improving things.
On Reid's signature new health care law, the new poll shows 52 percent of Nevada voters want it repealed, which Angle and other Republicans want, too. Another 38 are opposed to such an action.
"Voters will not forget that it is Harry Reid who has been in charge of this failed economy, and come November he'll be fired by the voters for being negligent in his role as a U.S. senator," Angle campaign spokesman Jerry Stacy said. "We've got voter intensity on our side. We're just getting started."
Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers said the senator remains confident.
"We have always said that as Nevada voters become familiar with Sharron Angle's extreme positions on Social Security, education and Yucca Mountain, they will reject her agenda," Summers said in a statement. "Nevadans know Senator Reid is working every day to create jobs, keep people in their homes and get our economy back on track."
The latest poll shows Angle recovered support from every voter group, including shoring up her GOP base with backing from 77 percent, or 7 percentage points higher than two weeks ago. Reid has backing from 79 percent of Democrats, which is consistent with his past level of support.
Angle also bounced back in Washoe County, her base, where she now is running neck and neck with Reid, 43 percent to 41 percent. In rural Nevada, Angle's support ticked down, 56 percent to 27 percent for Reid.
In vote-rich Clark County, Reid's base of support, Angle closed what was a 17-point gap in the last poll to 8 points, with her now running behind Reid 47 percent to 39 percent.
Among nonpartisan voters, who will likely determine the election, Angle is now leading Reid with 43 percent to 36 percent. The last poll had Reid over Angle, 37 percent to 35 percent. Those independent voters are less happy with Obama (60 percent disapproval) and the direction of the country (71 percent wrong track), than overall statewide voters, which plays in Angle's favor.
"The independents are the most volatile and are the ones who are going to decide this race," pollster Coker said. "I still see this as an anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat cycle."
Still, both Coker and Duffy of the Cook Political Report said Angle hasn't yet proven she is capable of running a high-octane campaign that can take on Reid toe to toe. The staunch conservative continues to give Reid ammunition with verbal gaffes, shifting positions and by limiting mainstream media access.
"These are all the things that are weighing her down," Duffy said.
In Washington, Duffy said the Democratic establishment believes Reid has wrapped up the race because Angle has run such a poor campaign out of the general election starting gate.
"It's a little too soon to put out the mission accomplished banner," Duffy said.
In the end, if both Reid and Angle are unpalatable to voters, none of the above might do well, Duffy predicted, saying that would hurt Angle because most are likely anti-Reid votes who can't accept her.
The new poll shows 7 percent for "none," 6 percent undecided and 2 percent other candidates.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.