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How Sharron Angle can (still) win



Can Nevada Senate nominee Sharron Angle win? Yes, and here's how. Getty Images

There's little doubt that former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has stumbled -- badly and repeatedly -- since winning the GOP nomination on June 8.

And, there's also no debate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D) campaign against Angle has been flawless in its execution -- using Angle's many past misstatements to paint her as an extremist who is out of touch with average Nevadans.

But -- and in politics there is almost always a "but" -- a recent independent poll in the race showed Reid at 45 percent to Angle's 44 percent -- a statistical dead heat that suggests that the Republican remains viable and could well even win this fall.

How?

Here's our take on five things that Angle could do in the next 64 days to get over the top on Nov. 2. Agree or disagree with our suggestions? The comments section awaits.

1. It's the economy, stupid: Unemployment in Nevada is over 14 percent, the highest in the nation. And Reid's early ads focused on the work he did to keep jobs in the state -- and in particular at City Center -- didn't move numbers (and might have actually hurt Reid in the ballot test). Angle needs to stay focused day in and day out on the idea that as the most powerful Democrat in the Senate -- and with a Democrat in the White House -- Reid hasn't been able to improve the job picture in the Silver State. The same Mason-Dixon poll that put the Angle-Reid race as a dead heat showed nearly half (47 percent) of Nevadans believe President Obama's economic policies have "hurt the nation's economic situation" while just 29 percent believe they have helped. That's fertile soil for Angle to till.

2. (Re)Fire up the base: The reason Angle beat two better known -- and far better financed -- challengers in the June primary was because she had passionate support from the most conservative elements of the party's base. And yet, so far in the general election that same passion has been found wanting; she loses 21 percent of self identified Republicans in the latest Mason-Dixon poll -- Reid takes 10 percent and the rest either favor another candidate or are undecided. Given the energy and enthusiasm permeating the Republican base across the country, Angle losing so much of her base support is unacceptable. The best way to get those voters back? Remind them of the stakes -- that they may not agree with Angle all of the time but they agree with her far more often than they agree with Reid.

3. A Reid overplay: Reid has, to date, been devastatingly effective in his attacks on Angle. But, in a campaign that is this negative for this long, the aggressor, which is clearly Reid, can run the risk of overplaying his hand in the eyes of voters. That is, too many attacks or even attacks that are not seen as credible by the average voter could play into Angle's hands. It's a fine line to walk for the Reid team. They believe they have so much effective opposition research on Angle that the tendency is to just keep pushing it out. But, it's worth remembering that Reid is not a well-liked presence in the state -- 39 percent favorable, 52 percent unfavorable in the latest Mason-Dixon poll -- and could be a flawed messenger for some of these Angle attacks.

4. Independents, Independents, Independents: Roughly 15 percent of active Nevada voters are registered as "non-partisan" and, in a race likely to be very close, the candidate who claims a majority of these unaffiliated voters will likely win. Amazingly, given the onslaught that Angle has endured, she is leading among independents 41 percent to 36 percent among independents in the most recent Mason-Dixon survey. More than six in ten (62 percent) of independents told Mason-Dixon that they would have preferred someone other than Reid as the Democratic nominee -- a number that suggests significant ambivalence toward the Majority Leader. (Of course, 71 percent of independents say they would have preferred someone other than Angle as the Republican nominee.)

5. Get (slightly) better as a candidate: Every Republican strategist knew that Angle was a work-in-progress when she won the June primary. Most underestimated just how much work she needed, however, and how resistant she would be to changing. Angle will never be a fully polished candidate on the stump -- and she might lose some of her base appeal if she was -- but she also can't win if she doesn't work on basic elements of the campaign: her stump speech, her interactions with reporters and, especially, debating Reid. Voters in Nevada want a reason to throw Reid out but, to date, Angle's rocky -- to be kind -- campaign hasn't done much to convince undecideds that she is a viable alternative.

By Chris Cillizza  | August 30, 2010; 1:57 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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