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Analyzing the Angle-Reid debate

1. In the most anticipated Senate debate of the election, former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle (R) proved that she could stand toe-to-toe with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D), although it remains to be seen whether either candidates' performance will have a major impact on the outcome of the race.

Neither Reid nor Angle shone in their one-and-only debate of the race. The challenger looked particularly unsteady as the start of the one-hour event, struggling for words and seemingly gasping for breath.

But the debate largely covered subjects that Angle embraces -- immigration, economy, job losses, taxes -- and she used every opportunity to poke Reid over his tenure in the Senate (he was first elected in 1986) and his ties to the Obama administration.

Angle also managed to land a few pre-rehearsed one-liners; she told Reid to "man up" at one point and channeled the late President Ronald Reagan when she remarked to Reid: "There you go again."

(Yes, those lines were canned responses that Angle's advisers almost certainly urged her to use at all costs. But, those one-liners are what get used -- and used -- by cable television as they revisit the debate.)

Reid was remarkably restrained in attacking Angle. The furthest he went was to describe her as an "extremist." But he did little to press on Angle's major weaknesses -- her conflicting statements on Social Security being the most glaring.

And, Reid repeatedly referenced his time in the Senate and often reverted to Senate-speak (he made regular mention of the Congressional Budget Office), which may not play well with voters unhappy with the nation's capital.

Will the debate change the course of the race? It's hard to know. But Angle clearly succeeded by not failing. While she was far from overwhelmingly impressive, she almost certainly cleared the low bar of credibility required for her to have a real chance at winning the race.

2. A new poll of battleground states shows Republicans still poised to make big gains in November although the outlook has brightened somewhat for Democrats since the summer.

The NPR News poll, which surveyed likely voters in 86 competitive districts held by Democrats and 10 held by the GOP, found that Republicans now lead Democrats 47 percent to 44 percent on the generic congressional ballot, down from Republicans' 49 percent to 41 percent lead in June.

The poll, which was conducted jointly by Democratic pollster Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and GOP pollster Public Opinion Strategies, also found that in Democratic-held districts 41 percent of likely voters approved of the job President Barack Obama is doing while 55 percent disapprove; in Republican-held districts that are being targeted by Democrats, 51 percent of likely voters approved of Obama's handling of his job while 46 percent disapproved.

Overall, the survey provides some -- but not much -- good news for Democrats less than three weeks out from Election Day.

It lands, however, less than 24 hours after the Cook Political Report upped its projection for GOP gains in the House.

"Overall, given the status of these Toss Up races and the length of the Lean Democratic column, Democrats' chances of losing at least 50 seats are now greater than their chances of holding losses under 45 seats," wrote Cook Political Report House Editor David Wasserman.

3. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and GOP nominee Joe Miller are in a statistical tie in the state's Senate race, according to a new poll conducted for the Club for Growth.

The poll, which was conducted by National Research Inc. last week and tested 400 likely voters, showed Miller at 33 percent, Murkowski (who is running a write-in campaign) at 31 percent and Democrat Scott McAdams at 27 percent. (The Club supports Miller.)

The new numbers are the closest McAdams has been to the leader since the start of the race and may cause political observers to take a second look at the Sitka Mayor's candidacy. McAdams has also raised an impressive $685,000 since the primary.

Murkowski announced Thursday that she raised $200,000 during the two weeks after she announced her write-in candidacy in mid-September. (She lost an Aug. 24 primary to Miller.) There is no word yet on Miller's fundraising totals.

To coincide with the launch of the poll, the Club also announced an effort to force Murkowski to refund campaign contributions to any Republican donor who requests it. A similar effort led by the Club cost Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) more than $800,000 after his party switch last year.

4. An internal poll conducted for Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias' campaign shows the Democrat statistically tied with his GOP rival, Rep. Mark Kirk, in the race for President Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll shows Giannoulias taking 44 percent to Kirk's 41 percent, with two third-party candidates taking seven percent.

The poll is the first to be released following Giannoulias and Kirk's showdown last Sunday on "Meet the Press," during which the two sparred over Giannoulias' family bank and Kirk's misstatements of his military record.

First Lady Michelle Obama hit the trail this week for Giannoulias, headlining an event that raked in $400,000 for the Senate hopeful.

"We've seen him grow," the First Lady said of Giannoulias at the event, adding: "I know he will be a phenomenal senator."

5. A new independent poll from the University of New Hampshire shows Republican Kelly Ayotte maintaining a double-digit lead on Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes in the Granite State Senate race.

The poll mirrors the results of another UNH poll two weeks ago with Ayotte at 50 percent and Hodes at 35 percent. Other recent polls have shown the race to be in the single digits, but Ayotte with a clear lead.

The latest UNH poll shows Ayotte leading 49 percent to 29 percent among independent voters -- a sign of her overall strength. The poll also shows her voters are more excited about voting and more decisive about their choice.

The consistency of Ayotte's lead over the last few weeks suggests it will take something drastic to move the race in Hodes' favor. Ayotte's sustained edge also confirms that she suffered few ill effects of a very narrow primary victory over businessman Ovide Lamontagne on Sept. 14.

The Fix currently rates the New Hampshire race as "lean Republican," and neither national party has pumped independent expenditure dollars into the contest -- a sign that it is not as competitive as other races around the country.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | October 15, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Fast Fix: Alaska's Spelling Bee

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