On Saturday inside the tented Henderson Pavilion, Sharron Angle will be the headline speaker at a “Conservative Country Concert” starring Bryan White, the singer who teamed with Shania Twain on the crossover hit “From This Moment On.”
The event serves as a foray onto the most important battleground in the U.S. Senate race: Congressional District 3, which includes Henderson, the suburbs of Las Vegas, parts of North Las Vegas and much of unincorporated Clark County.
Three months before Election Day, Sen. Harry Reid’s Republican challenger needs the star-power help in the uphill slog to win voters in this swing district. It’s the Democratic incumbent’s support base as well as the main path to victory in statewide races. And it’s the most populous district in the United States with about 1 million people, or one-third of Nevada residents.
“It’s hard to imagine Sharron Angle losing CD 3 and winning the election,” said Jamie Fisfis, who advised Danny Tarkanian’s failed GOP primary campaign against Angle and has closely studied the electoral landscape across the state. “But who knows. Sharron Angle has been written off before by me and others, and I’ll never do that again.”
In the June 8 primary, the former Reno assemblywoman beat two GOP contenders who were far better known in Southern Nevada: Tarkanian, a former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball star, and Sue Lowden, a casino executive and former Nevada Republican Party chairwoman.
Now the Tea Party favorite must persuade general election voters who still don’t know much about Angle beyond her name and staunch conservative profile to pick her over Reid, whose TV ads have portrayed his Republican rival as too extreme.
The latest poll for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow shows Angle running neck and neck with Reid statewide. But she’s 8 points behind him in Clark County, or 39 percent support for her to 47 percent for Reid from likely Nevada voters surveyed by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research.
In Congressional District 3, Reid has another advantage over Angle: a Democratic voter registration edge of 25,000.
Still, that’s far less than two years ago when the Democratic advantage hit more than 39,000, thanks to a registration drive that helped President Barack Obama win the state and the White House.
In the end, however, the key deciding factor in the election will be nonpartisan voters, who numbered 63,682 of a total 402,183 registered in the district, or 16 percent, at the end of June.
One of those nonpartisan voters is James Zabinski, 67, of Henderson, who retired from United Airlines. He said he’s leaning toward Reid after seeing anti-Angle ads and reading interviews she gave, including one in which the Southern Baptist said she entered the race because of “a calling” from God.
“She doesn’t separate religion from politics,” said Zabinski, who has voted for Reid before. “Anyone who says God sent me, that’s just nuts.”
On the other hand there’s Michael Beatty, 23. The Henderson resident is registered nonpartisan but said he’s going to switch to Republican. The UNLV student said he plans to vote for Angle in November because he’s against the Reid and Obama Democratic agenda that has expanded government, including with the new health care law that will require Americans to buy insurance.
“They’re just power hungry,” Beatty said of Reid and the Democrats. “I feel like we should make the government smaller and we wouldn’t have to have as many taxes.”
The Mason-Dixon poll conducted Monday through Wednesday shows Angle leading Reid among nonpartisan voters, 43 percent to 36 percent, with more than two-thirds of them saying the country is on the wrong track.
The statewide poll of 625 registered voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Zabinski and Beatty typify what’s happening among voters starting to take sides in the race, which has been playing out mostly on the airwaves. Reid is defining Angle as out of the mainstream, and Angle is squarely blaming Reid for Nevada’s still-worsening economic problems.
Congressional District 3 has led the state in population growth since it was created in 2002 and had a 50-50 party registration split. It’s now ground zero of the state’s economic crisis of record high unemployment, bankruptcy rates and home foreclosures.
“Voters are more likely to group Democrats together and blame the party in power, so Reid’s bearing most of the responsibility,” said Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Report.
“Angle has to keep attention on Reid and the economy,” he added. “Republicans don’t stand to benefit from being the story in the race. The more you’re in the spotlight, the more people pick at you.”
That’s one reason Joe Heck, the Republican trying to unseat freshman Rep. Dina Titus, in Congressional District 3 has escaped heavy scrutiny in their dead heat race, while Republicans in Washington have raked Titus for pushing a Democratic agenda that hasn’t stopped the economic bleeding.
The Titus campaign recently has been trying to link Heck with Angle, saying they share an extreme agenda, including cutting or trimming some federal agencies such as the Department of Education and allowing workers to opt out of Social Security and open personal retirement accounts instead.
Still, Heck doesn’t seem to be running from Angle. She and the former state senator, who lost re-election in the face of an Obama-led Democratic sweep in 2008, share conservative fiscal ideas that resonate with voters who fear growing debt and deficits and continued federal spending.
The two have appeared at several of the same GOP and conservative events, including at last weekend’s RightOnline convention of bloggers and activists in Las Vegas.
Heck, who spoke before Angle and didn’t share the stage, launched “Operation New Direction” at the event. He argued a GOP victory in Congressional District 3 would help Angle win and Republicans take control of the House and Senate. Most political analysts predict the GOP will pick up dozens of House seats, but it’s a long shot that Republicans will ride an anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat wave to a full takeover.
A fiery speaker, Heck called on the crowd to stay involved so the party could “oust Dina Titus, fire Nancy Pelosi and retire Harry Reid and send a message to Washington that November is coming.”
Titus is among the most endangered freshman representatives who rode into office on the coattails of Obama. Before she won the seat, GOP Rep. Jon Porter had held it for six years.
This weekend, Heck plans to join Angle during the 6 p.m. concert at Henderson’s amphitheater, which is expected to draw a capacity crowd of close to 4,000 under the tent seating and on the grass.
Fisfis said the GOP message from Heck and Angle is a strong one for the suffering Congressional District 3, which includes Reid’s hometown of Searchlight, where up to 10,000 Tea Party activists rallied in March to call for his retirement after four Senate terms.
“The Senate race falls upon the themes of CD 3, which is the economy, homes, jobs,” Fisfis said. “It has to be a referendum on the direction of the country.”
The Reid team recognizes that as well, with the senator taking every opportunity to point out clean energy and other projects in Clark and other counties that have received federal funds thanks to him.
“Our campaign will keep working every day to ensure people know how hard Senator Reid is working to create jobs, help keep people in their homes and get our economy back on track,” Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers said in a statement.
“There will also be an aggressive coordinated effort to ensure voters in CD 3 know about Senator Reid’s record so they can compare that to Angle’s extreme agenda of killing Social Security, eliminating the Department of Education, and shipping nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain,” he added.
So far, the Reid campaign activity in the district has centered mostly on phone banks with volunteers calling voters as well as some canvassing. Meanwhile, the Angle campaign, which is based in Reno and has a Las Vegas office, said it hopes to open a satellite office in the district.
Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy said the campaign is confident of her chances in Southern Nevada for several reasons. The first is that Reid still must shore up his Democratic base, which has been disappointed that Obama didn’t go far enough with reforms, including on health care and immigration.
Also, Stacy said the GOP base is more fired up, and Nevadans are angry that the Democrats’ $787 billion stimulus spending package has failed to prevent nearly 200,000 residents from being jobless now.
“We’ve got voter intensity on our side,” Stacy said. “Voters are unhappy, and they’re going to hold Harry Reid’s feet to the fire in November.”
There is one prominent example of a politician achieving statewide office without winning either Clark County or Congressional District 3, according to Clark County Election Department records.
In 2006, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons won after beating Titus in all 16 other counties — by large margins in rural Nevada where Angle also is far out front of Reid, according to the latest poll.
Statewide, Gibbons won with 48 percent of the vote to Titus’ 44 percent, with the remainder split among two minor party candidates and “none of these candidates,” which got 3.6 percent.
In Clark County, Titus beat Gibbons, 49 percent to 43 percent, while edging him out in Congressional District 3 with her pulling away with 101,118 votes to his 96,284.
Those figures might not provide much comfort to the Angle camp, however, because Gibbons managed his victory by also trouncing Titus in Washoe County, 53 percent to 39 percent.
The recent Mason-Dixon poll showed Reid and Angle running neck and neck in Washoe County, 43 percent for him and 41 percent for her. That means Angle still has work to do to gain support in her home base of Northern Nevada where voters should know her best.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.