Nevada's "Gotcha" Senate Election

Majority Leader Sen.

Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid has done an effective job, mostly through surrogates, of making the Nevada race for Senate less about himself, and his sagging job approval numbers, and more about his opponent, former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle.

Reid’s latest ad consists of a self-identified Republican police officer expressing his distaste for remarks made by Angle on the Lars Larson Show in January. On the program, she suggests that people who are frustrated with the government may turn to “Second Amendment remedies.” The police officer than says that this “call to armed resistance against the government” is too extreme for Nevada.

This is the latest in a string of ads that seek to use Angle’s own words against her. “I’m not in the business of creating jobs,” and “…We have put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry and said ‘you don’t want the jobs that are available,’” are just two recent examples. Some of the ads even present Angle’s statement in total and within context, a true rarity in the attack ad business. This approach reflects the Reid campaign’s confidence that these and other statements will prove fatal to Mrs. Angel.  

While these quotes may reflect candidate Angle’s deeply held beliefs, there can be no question that highlighting them has hurt her campaign. Since Angle won the GOP nomination for Senate in Nevada on June 8, the race has gone from a likely Angel win to a tossup leaning toward Reid. Reid’s tactic of maintaining low visibility and turning his opponent into a toxic property appears to be working… to a point.

No candidate seeking election, let alone reelection, can stay completely invisible. Once in a while, the incumbent must peek his head over the parapet and risk taking a slug in the forehead. Sen. Reid may have endangered his own strategy this week with a poorly-phrased and highly publicized gaff about Hispanic Republicans, and his confusion as to why they exist at all.

“I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican. Okay? Do I need to say more?” … Nope. Loud and clear, Senator.

Regardless of the fallacious nature of this statement, (high-profile GOP candidates like Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, and candidate for Nevada’s governor against Reid’s son, Brian Sandoval, for example) in the right circumstances it may have generated some traction. Reid merely gave voice to a sentiment that is shared by much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Since the Arizona immigration law debate began in April – May, speculation about the GOP’s dismal future with Hispanic voters has become a cause for celebration among liberal prognosticators.

If you thought Reid would back away from this statement, think again. “Sen. Reid’s contention was simply that he doesn't understand how anyone, Hispanic or otherwise, would vote for Republican candidates…” read a statement issued from Reid’s office on Wednesday. 

The problem Reid encountered is that he voiced this opinion, a turnoff for many Democrats and independents and certainly aggravating to Republicans, during a general election campaign. Were he speaking before a friendly audience during a primary fight, for example, this one may have gone unnoticed for a couple of years, as was the case with Reid’s last famous gaffe.

For those that remember, Sen. Reid has a history of racially insensitive, albeit refreshingly unfiltered, remarks. In the bestselling book “Game Change,” chronicling the 2008 election, Sen. Reid was quoted describing President Obama as “Light skinned… with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” This was, oddly, an attempt at a compliment. Despite the statement going unreported for 13 months, it was not well received when it did hit the press… at least by most.

CNN commentator and former chief spokesman for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and former NJ Governor Jon Corzine, Anthony Coley, sprang to Sen. Reid’s defense. “Americans judge politicians by their actions,” Cowley said. “Instead of knee-jerk criticisms of everything Reid says or does, perhaps… Republicans should provide concrete proposals to address the countless challenges we face as a nation.” Well, one thing that cannot be said about Angle is that she has not presented ideas, controversial as they are.

One or two gaffes are forgivable, but a lifetime of “inartful” comments, as White House Press Secretary Gibbs would say, requires the sober scrutiny of the Reid campaign. But the reality is that Reid is as gaffe prone as his opponent, and that could derail his focus-on-my-opponent strategy. So far, the Senator has not had the fortune to be buoyed by the support of the commentator class on this latest one.

It has yet to be determined what impact this will have on Reid’s campaign or Nevada’s 2009 estimated 25 percent Hispanic population. What is certain is that this misstatement has given the field of Hispanic GOP candidates some coveted cable time.

The problem for candidates who have toxic approval numbers is that it is next to impossible for them to keep a low profile. It is difficult to remain completely invisible on the campaign trail, even when focusing on appearing exclusively in front of friendly audiences at campaign fundraisers. The experienced campaigner, which Sen. Reid certainly is, should know better. But invisibility is not his style. Reid likes to debate, to get in front of the cameras and make the case for himself – no one would get into the game of politics if they did not. Near invisibility will be a difficult strategy for his campaign to maintain going forward.

After the recess, with a watchful media, the solid money is on more high-profile gaffes from both candidates. The real question is how will the campaigns manage them and how will the public respond? Those of us without answers to either question are breathlessly awaiting new polls…

Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at

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