U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has opened a strong lead over Republican opponent Sharron Angle after pummeling her in a ubiquitous TV and radio ad campaign that portrays the Tea Party favorite as "too extreme," according to a new poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The Democratic incumbent's aggressive strategy of attacking Angle's staunch conservative views from the moment she won the June 8 primary has cost her support among every voter group -- from men and women to both political parties and independents -- in vote-rich Clark and Washoe counties.
"He's had five perfect weeks," said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the survey. "The race has been all about her, and he's been doing a good job of pounding her."
Yet Coker said it's too soon to write off Angle. More than one-quarter of the nonpartisan swing voters who probably will decide the Nov. 2 election haven't jumped to the still-unpopular Reid but instead are undecided or in the "other" or "none of these candidates" columns, the poll showed.
"I wouldn't write her obituary just yet," Coker said, noting it's a long way to November. "Three and a half months is a lifetime, and at some point she's going to be able to start fighting back."
The Mason-Dixon poll showed that if the general election were held now, Reid would win 44 percent to 37 percent for Angle. Ten percent were undecided, 5 percent would choose "none of these candidates," and the remaining 4 percent would pick another candidate on the ballot.
That is the best Reid has done against Angle this year in a series of Mason-Dixon polls. Previously, the two had been locked in a statistical dead heat with Angle finishing just ahead of Reid in February, 44 percent to 42 percent, and in June, 44 percent to 41 percent, and Reid finishing just ahead of Angle in May, 42 percent to 39 percent.
The phone survey, taken Monday through Wednesday of 625 likely voters in Nevada, is the first in which Reid has finished ahead of Angle outside the margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Reid campaign attributed the senator's momentum to its efforts to expose the former Reno assemblywoman's views.
They include allowing young workers to opt out of Social Security and instead open personal retirement accounts, doing away with federal agencies such as the Education Department to cut spending and developing Yucca Mountain into a nuclear reprocessing facility.
"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," Reid campaign spokesman Jon 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 Angle campaign -- a mom-and- pop operation that had been piling up debt during the GOP primary -- acknowledged it has been overwhelmed and overmatched by the rapid-fire Reid camp, which has been spending about $1 million a month, including on nonstop ads.
But Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy said the campaign is now capable of battling back after raising nearly as much money as Reid during the latest fundraising quarter that ended June 30: $2.3 million compared with $2.4 million. Angle's campaign now has nearly $1.8 million cash on hand, compared with $9 million cash for Reid, who has raised $19.2 million this election cycle.
"While we were busy raising money, Harry Reid was busy distorting Sharron Angle's record while trying to hide from his own," Stacy said in an interview. "Now it's our turn. Now that we have the money, we're going to be able to run a more effective campaign."
Stacy said that Reid's best hope of winning re-election is to keep the focus on Angle because he is unpopular at home. Also, President Barack Obama and Reid are having difficulty convincing voters that the $787 billion stimulus bill and industry bailouts are working to turn the economy around.
"Harry Reid knows he's in trouble, and he can't build himself up," Stacy said. "He can't run on his record and win. People counted Sharron out during the primary, but we proved them wrong. Do not count Sharron Angle out now. What this race is really about is the economy."
Nevada has suffered more than other state during the recession. It has a record unemployment rate of 14 percent, the highest in the nation, and record high home foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.
Angle's first and only TV ad in the general election hits Reid on the economy. Stacy said a second commercial has been cut and will air soon, also taking Reid to task for Nevada's dismal standing, becoming the hardest-hit state in the nation during the Senate leader's watch.
But Reid is starting to go toe-to-toe with Angle on economic issues, both by attacking her in TV and radio ads and by having Obama come to Nevada as he did last week to promote Reid and the Democrats' moves to create new jobs and spur private business development.
While Reid helped save the $8.5 billion CityCenter project on the Strip by pressuring banks to continue funding it, Angle has said she would not have interfered, something the senator's campaign points out in its attack ads. Reid also has a positive ad promoting his CityCenter role.
Angle and other fiscally conservative Republicans argue that private enterprises should fail or succeed on their own and government shouldn't choose which industries are "too big to fail."
Since last month, Reid's campaign has managed to make Angle nearly as unpopular as Reid.
According to the latest Mason-Dixon poll, 46 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Reid and 37 percent have a favorable view of him now. That compares with 52 percent to 35 percent in June.
Angle's unfavorable rating, meanwhile, jumped by double digits -- from 25 percent in early June to 43 percent now -- while her favorable rating is now 33 percent compared with 38 percent last month.
"I was surprised how quickly and how effectively the Reid campaign came out against her after the primary," said Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. "I think Angle got caught off guard. Harry Reid didn't give her any breathing time, so she got defined as 'wacky Sharron.' "
As a result, Angle lost support across the board in July compared with early June:
■ Among men, Angle fell from 50 percent support to 41 percent now.
■ Among women, 38 percent to 33 percent.
■ Among Democrats, 12 percent to 8 percent.
■ Among Republicans, 81 percent to 70 percent.
■ Among independents, 41 percent to 35 percent.
■ Among Clark County voters, 37 percent to 32 percent.
■ And among Washoe County voters, 51 percent to 34 percent.
Reid's support ticked up a bit among all those groups except nonpartisans, with his backing holding steady at 37 percent now compared with 37 percent in the June 1-3 survey.
The Democratic incumbent, whose base of support is Southern Nevada, saw his numbers shoot up by double digits in Washoe County -- from 32 percent to 45 percent -- which should jolt Angle, whose base is Northern and rural Nevada, which remains strongly for her and against Reid.
Herzik said the new Mason-Dixon poll findings show how effective Reid's general election strategy has been, and now the question is "how well does Angle respond."
In Angle's previous close elections, Herzik said the grass-roots campaigner has usually finished strong, including when she nearly beat Rep. Dean Heller in 2006 and won the GOP primary this year.
"She needs to come up with a response that levels the playing field," Herzik said. "We've seen that Harry's Part 1 was pretty effective" in his general election campaign. "What is Harry's Part 2? What's the next thing he can use to promote his campaign and really bring down Sharron Angle?"
Social Security doesn't seem to be a winning issue for either camp because voters are so divided on it.
According to the Mason-Dixon poll, 46 percent think that allowing investment in private accounts "is too financially risky" and the current system should be left alone, which endorses Reid's position. But 41 percent agree that young workers should be allowed to "opt out" of Social Security "as long as those who have already paid into the Social Security system receive their benefits as promised," which is what Angle proposes. Another 13 percent were not sure.
Angle has said her focus will be "the economy, the economy, the economy," arguing federal government should create a low-tax, low-regulation, business-friendly environment to create jobs.
Reid's camp seems intent on highlighting his work to bring clean-energy jobs to Nevada and intent on continuing to portray Angle as out of step and out of the mainstream.
Herzik said voters should expect an "October surprise," including some sort of positive economic announcement that Obama and Reid can make to help put him over the top to victory.
In the end, Reid himself has long said he doesn't need to raise his support too much higher to win because voters will face nine choices on the splintered ballot: Reid, Angle, four nonpartisan candidates, one Independent American Party contender, one Tea Party of Nevada candidate and "none."
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.