It was a good month for Harry Reid. A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey released May 28 shows him within spitting distance of the top three candidates vying for Nevada’s Republican Senate nomination in a hypothetical election-day match-up.
The poll also shows that Reid’s reputation has improved. Whereas 54% of voters surveyed in April viewed Reid unfavorably, his negative rating now stands at 49%. During the same period, his favorability rating among voters rose from 33% to 37%.
Other candidates might not be breaking out the champagne in the face of such numbers, but for the Reid campaign, the results are huge. While many Democrats are struggling this year, Reid has been a dead man walking, marked for defeat by virtually every analyst not currently employed by his campaign.
How bad is it? Las Vegas Sun political columnist Jon Ralston runs an ongoing feature entitled, "Harry Reid is dead, one in an occasional series."
But the Mason-Dixon numbers give the Reid campaign reason for hope. If Reid continues to bolster his favorability rating at this pace, he could be downright popular by November. Could Harry Reid pull off the biggest political comeback of the year and rise from the ashes to win reelection in 2010?
Um, probably not. A closer look at the Nevada Senate race suggests that the jump in Reid’s favorables and decline in his unfavorables are likely an isolated blip, not the start of a trend.
Mason-Dixon surveyed likely Nevada voters from May 24-26. While Reid was keeping a low profile during that period, given that he has no serious Democratic primary opposition in the June 8 primary, Republican frontrunner Sue Lowden and insurgent Sharron Angle were embroiled in a mudfest of epic proportions.
Angle surged into a statistical dead heat with Lowden after receiving the endorsements of the Tea Party Express and Club for Growth. Lowden was already in trouble after the infamous "Chickens for Checkups" incident, in which she said she supported bartering for medical services and noted that old-timers used to pay their doctors with chickens.
The Lowden campaign struck back hard against Angle with its so-called Scientology ad, which says that Angle supported a massage-therapy program for inmates promoted by the Church of Scientology. Angle, who is Southern Baptist, has said she wanted to explore a program to reduce prison recidivism that was supported by Scientologists, but backed off after the idea was "demonized and politicized" by the legislature in 2003.
The Club for Growth swung back with a television spot aimed at Lowden. "Sue Lowden’s attacking Sharron Angle? You gotta be kidding. Sharron Angle is Nevada’s leading fiscal conservative," says the ad. "Sue Lowden? She voted to raise taxes, supported huge spending increases, and backed Harry Reid for years."
Lowden promptly filed a complaint with the state’s campaign board against Angle for hitching a ride in a private plane in May to attend a Tea Party event in Searchlight, Nev. Angle’s campaign says that she has since paid fair market value for the lift.
The third-place Republican candidate, Danny Tarkanian, has managed to duck the mud-slinging, leading to speculation that he could squeak out a victory if Lowden and Angle are too damaged to win.
The latest survey shows that Reid no longer trails the Republicans by double digits. In a hypothetical match-up, Lowden would defeat Reid 42% to 39%, Tarkanian beats Reid 42% to 41%, but Reid actually surpasses Angle by 42% to 39%. The margin of error is plus/minus 4 percent.
Those figures have led to fears that Angle, the most conservative candidate in the race, could cost Republicans the election if she’s the nominee. The Reid campaign clearly wants Angle to win the nomination and has targeted Lowden with negative ads and a recent ethics complaint.
But an Angle victory won’t save Reid’s hide. It’s important to remember that Angle, a former state House representative, hails from Washoe County in the North and isn’t as well known as Lowden and Tarkanian in Clark County, home of Las Vegas and the state’s population hub. That will change if she receives the Republican nod.
Brad Coker, Mason-Dixon research director, said he thinks Reid’s bump in the polls has more to do with the contentious Republican primary than with anything Reid has done to redeem himself with voters.
"The odds are still better that Reid will lose than win," said Coker. "Having said that, it should be noted that Republicans are doing all they can to make what should have been a slam dunk into a competitive race."
Once the Republican primary is over, the GOP can get back to the business of reminding voters why they wanted to defeat Harry Reid in the first place. The list includes his pivotal role in ushering in Obamacare, the billion-dollar bank bailouts and runaway deficit spending, not to mention his opposition to border security and support for amnesty. On his watch, Nevada leads the nation in unemployment and home foreclosures.
"At the end of the day, I think whoever wins the Republican nomination will be able to come back, patch up the wounds and make peace," said Coker. "Not all Republicans may like the nominee, but I think they’ll all agree their pick is better than Harry Reid."