Heavily Contested Nevada Senate Race Pits Republicans Against Each Other

Nevada Republicans are hoping to build on the nation's anti-incumbency fervor to defeat longtime Sen. Harry Reid, but the battle for that coveted spot has pitted Republicans against each other, with nearly a dozen candidates vying for the coveted GOP nomination.

Senate Majority Leader Reid's popularity has plummeted in recent months. Earlier this year, more than half of Nevadans had an unfavorable opinion of Reid, according to various polls. But recent surveys show a slight decline in those numbers -- a Mason-Dixon survey conducted last month showed that nearly half of Nevadans -- 49 percent -- had an unfavorable view of the longtime senator.

Some political analysts say Reid has the bitter battle between Republican candidates to thank for that uptick.

There are nearly a dozen candidates vying for the Republican spot, with top candidates in neck-and-neck races as the primaries near.

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"With the number of choices people are going to have on the ballot, that may be enough for him [Reid] to win," said political analyst Jon Ralston. "He needs to drive the negatives in the Republicans because his positives are not going to go up that much more."

Tea Party favorite and former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has surged in polls in recent weeks, above former state GOP chair Sue Lowden, favored by the state's Republican establishment. Businessman Danny Tarkanian, son of the legendary UNLV basketball coach, is also trailing closely behind.

Lowden has attempted to link Angle to the Church of Scientology in her campaign ads, hoping to derail her campaign. Lowden, who was ahead in polls for weeks until recently, herself has come under fire for campaign contributions.

Reid's campaign has explicitly targeted Lowden, who is seen as the best candidate to defeat the incumbent, in recent polls. Democrats have also seized on a statement Lowden made, saying people in the past used to barter chickens for services such as health care.

Her opponents charge that her gaffes show she is not prepared to run against Reid.

Besides the chicken bartering comment, the "second mistake she's made has been she accepted an RV bus worth over $100,000, and she's failed to pay for it," Tarkanian said on "Top Line" Thursday. "She's had different answers on all of these, and she's been exposed as not being completely honest on that issue. Those two issues, I believe, have shown that her campaign is not prepared to run against a guy like Harry Reid."

But political analysts say Lowden, with her moderate stance on key issues compared to her competition, still would make the November election tougher for Reid than Angle.

"Even though Lowden is very badly damaged with her very poor primary campaign perform[ance], Reid's people would rather face Sharron Angle because she is easier to pull independents away from," Ralston said. "Reid needs to pull some of those to win."

Nevada Senate Primary Pits Republican Against Republican

Independents make up about 15 percent of the voting block in Nevada. Some Republicans are concerned that Angle won't be able to pull in those votes if she's up against Reid in November.

"The question is how much will the hatred, dislike, disdain for incumbents personified by Harry Reid in this state play against someone who's going to be portrayed as out of the mainstream as Sharron Angle would be if she makes it into the general election," Ralston said.

But Angle's supporters are confident she will nab the Republican nomination Tuesday.

"We think that she has a great chance. She clearly has the momentum," said Mike Connelly, a spokesman for the conservative Club for Growth, which is backing Angle. "If she gets a nomination, she will beat Harry Reid. I think that her candor and her authenticity and her proven record as kind of a person whose willing to stand up to big government are going to separate her."

GOP activists are pumping millions of dollars into the Nevada campaign, hoping to give Reid the same kind of blow they did to former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in 2004.

"They talk so much about how they're going to 'Daschle' Harry Reid and claim their second majority leader's head in six years that I think it's going to be a very big loss for them" if a GOP candidate doesn't win, Ralston said.

Reid has occupied one of Nevada's two Senate seats for more than two decades. But his popularity has slid sharply in the state where the economy is strained and unemployment stands at 13.6 percent.

Nevadans are increasingly concerned about the Democratic agenda coming out of Washington, D.C., much of which has been led by Reid.

Ralston calls it the "Reid fatigue" factor.

"I've never seen the kind of animosity toward any politician as there is now in this state towards Harry Reid," Ralston said.

The state's election commission is expecting primary turnout to be in the 20-25 percent range, between the turnout figures for 2006 and 2008. This is the first time that the primary is being held in June.