Reid May Have the Tea Party to Thank for a Victory in November

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may have the Tea Party movement to thank if he overcomes Republican efforts to unseat him in November.

Polls show Sharron Angle, favored by many Tea Party adherents, leading a field of 12 in Nevada’s Republican primary tomorrow to select the challenger for Democrat Reid. Angle, a former state legislator, wants to deny funding for President Barack Obama’s health-care measure, eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and scrap the current tax code.

“She’s the better match-up for Reid,” said David Damore, an assistant political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “The race is shaping up the way Harry Reid wanted it to.”

An Angle win would be another coup for the Tea Party and its anti-Washington agenda after Rand Paul, the movement’s preferred candidate, beat the Republican establishment’s pick on May 18 for the Kentucky party’s Senate nomination. The question is whether these candidates can win in November’s election; the answer could determine how Republicans fare in their bid for significant gains in Senate and House seats.

“If the national mood is like it is now, then look out,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “I wouldn’t write off any of these candidates.”

Reid will have his work cut out for him, whichever Republican he faces. Baker calls Nevada “ground zero for the tremendous amount of voter discontent.”

Economic Picture

The state has the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, according to Irvine, California-based research company RealtyTrac Inc. Nevada’s unemployment rate hovers just shy of 14 percent, the second highest in the country behind Michigan. Personal income has declined by nearly 5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Angle, 60, owes her ascendance to Tea Party support and to Reid, whose backers have focused on bashing the early Republican frontrunner, Sue Lowden. A June 1-2 poll by Boston’s Suffolk University showed Angle with an 8 percentage point lead over Lowden, a former state Republican Party chairwomen, and a 7- point edge over Las Vegas businessman Danny Tarkanian, 48, the son of former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. The poll’s error margin was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Poll Lead

A separate poll of 500 registered Nevada Republicans who said they were likely to vote in the primary gave Angle 32 percent support, Tarkanian 24 percent and Lowden 23 percent, with 13 percent undecided. The poll, taken June 1-3 for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Angle earned a reputation in the Nevada Assembly for fighting tax increases. On her website, she claims to have voted against “more than 100 attempts to increase taxes and fees.”

The Tea Party Express, a loosely affiliated political organization helmed by campaign operatives, has spent more than $400,000 on television and mail to support Angle, spokesman Levi Russell said. Also, the anti-tax Club for Growth is airing ads that laud Angle as “the best choice for Nevada Republicans” while blasting Lowden for voting to raise taxes, supporting “huge spending increases” and backing Harry Reid “for years” -- a reference to past campaign donations.

Bartering With Doctors

Lowden, 58, has stumbled in the past, as when she suggested Americans could barter for medical services, saying older generations used to “bring a chicken to the doctor.” She has also faced questions about her failure to report using a recreational vehicle for campaigning that was provided by a donor.

Lowden blames Reid for spotlighting these fumbles.

“When you run against the majority leader of the United States Senate, you have to expect everything,” Lowden said in an interview last week while stumping at an American Legion hall in Las Vegas. “He’s doing everything he can to make sure I don’t get out of the primary” because “he knows he cannot defeat me in November,” she said.

Lowden questions Angle’s viability in the general election. A posting on her campaign website declares: “Angle in November means Reid in December.”

Angle, who lives in northern Nevada, spent much of the week before the primary campaigning in rural communities outside of Las Vegas, where Lowden and Tarkanian live. Her campaign didn’t make her available to comment.

Former Lazard Banker

Among the dozen Republicans on the primary ballot is former Lazard Freres & Co. banker John Chachas. His campaign has languished, even though he contributed more than $1.3 million of his money to it, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Reid, 70, has already spent more than $10 million on his re-election, according to the same center, a Washington-based research group.

The political action committee for MGM Mirage, the biggest casino operator on the Las Vegas strip, contributed $10,000 to his campaign and donations from its employees total about $143,000, according to the center.

Reid has the backing of Steve Wynn, chief executive officer of Wynn Resorts Ltd., who gave Reid the maximum allowable individual donation of $4,800, according to the same data.

While campaigning last week in Boulder City, Nevada, Reid in an interview dismissed criticism from Republicans that his majority leader duties distract him from serving constituents.

“My role as majority leader has been very, very good for the state of Nevada,” Reid said. “I control what goes in and out of the Senate, and, as a result of that, Nevada has gotten far more than its share.”

To contact the reporter for this story: Patrick O’Connor in Washington at poconnor14@bloomberg.net

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