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Nevada, meet Harry Reid

By Chris Cillizza
Monday, October 19, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) took to the Nevada airwaves late last week with ads designed to reintroduce himself to voters more than a year before a single ballot will be cast.

Reid launched two ads. One, which is running in Las Vegas, focuses on his role in keeping construction going on the City Center project. The other, running in the Reno market, is a more straightforward bio piece detailing the Democrat's hardscrabble roots and tenacity.

The commercials, which began airing 383 days before the November 2010 vote, are either a sign of Reid's desperation amid faltering poll numbers or a planned re-introduction effort for a man who hasn't been on the ballot for six years.

Reid allies insist that the ads were born of demographic necessity. Nevada is growing so fast that an estimated 30 percent of the voters moved to the state since Reid was on the ballot in 2004. "Long planned to begin airing a year out from the election, the two spots will begin introducing the Majority Leader to the 395,749 new voters registered in Nevada since his last election in 2004, or approximately one third of all registered voters in the state," read a news release on the commercials.

Plus, the ads note, Reid, as the most powerful senator in the chamber, has the ability to deliver in a way that no one else can.

Those less favorably inclined to Reid insist that the ads are a knee-jerk reaction to recent polling that shows the Democrat trailing former Republican Party chairwoman Sue Lowden and businessman Danny Tarkanian in head-to-head matchups. "He needs to change the game," Republican pollster Glen Bolger said of Reid. "His image is so poor that waiting would be a disaster. If this doesn't improve his image, then he's the Jim Zorn of senators -- waiting to be fired."

The argument for ads like this is that Reid will be on television long before his likely GOP opponents, and that before the negative assault begins, he will have a chance to make a case to voters that he should be reelected.

The argument against the early ads is that voters simply aren't focused on campaign politics more than a year before an election and, given that, running TV commercials is akin to flushing your money down the toilet.

Our sense? These ads represent a necessary gamble by Reid.

States in play

Fifteen days out from the Nov. 3 gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, both parties' expectation-lowering machines have gone into high gear.

Republicans say a split verdict in the two states would be a victory for them. They point out that the states went for President Obama last fall and say the fact that they are competitive is a sign of his -- and his party's -- faltering appeal.

Democrats respond that the party in the White House hasn't won a governor's race in either state since 1985, when Gov. Tom Kean (R) won a second term during Ronald Reagan's presidency.

As of today, a split result seems most likely. Republicans have a clear edge in Virginia, while a recent New York Times poll in New Jersey shows Gov. Jon Corzine (D) moving slightly ahead of former U.S. attorney Chris Christie (R).

Both races rank among the top 10 states most likely to switch parties in the next election. Here's the full list:

10. New Jersey (Democratic-controlled): It's become clear that Christie is slipping while independent candidate Chris Daggett is moving up in the last weeks of the race. It's no surprise then that Christie and the Republican Governors Association have begun to attack Daggett on TV and radio of late. Corzine cannot move his number beyond the low 40s no matter what he does, so the incumbent must hope that Christie can't peel enough votes off of Daggett to keep the third-party candidate out of double digits.

9. California (Republican-controlled): A recent Field Poll suggested that the Democratic primary and general election are state Attorney General Jerry Brown's to lose. Brown led San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom by 20 points in the primary and held bigger leads in general-election matchups against the likely Republican nominees. Former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman's wealth makes this a race to keep on the radar, but her uneven performance over the past few weeks raises questions about whether she will even be the Republican nominee.

8. Michigan (D): The dismal state of the state's economy, eight years of Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and a terrific Republican field spell big trouble for Democrats in the Wolverine State.

7. Virginia (D): The trend line in the new Washington Post poll doesn't look good for state Sen. Creigh Deeds. Voters think Deeds is running a negative campaign (never a good sign) and trust former state attorney general Bob McDonnell (R) more to solve the problems facing the commonwealth.

6. Vermont (R): Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie's decision to run for the office being vacated by fellow Republican Jim Douglas gives the party some reason for hope. But the state's demographics strongly favor Democrats, and that party has several credible candidates who would probably be favorites against Dubie in the general election.

5. Oklahoma (D): Rep. Mary Fallin (R) is a strong front-runner in the primary and, because of the Sooner State's GOP tendencies, in the general election as well. Democrats have serviceable candidates in Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmondson, but there isn't much optimism in Washington about their chances.

4. Rhode Island (R): The GOP rumor mill is churning about the emergence of a candidate in the mode of Gov. Don Carcieri (R). We'll believe it when we see it. In the meantime, this is certainly a race between former senator Lincoln Chafee, who is running as an independent, and whoever Democrats nominate.

3. Hawaii (R): There's a terrific Democratic primary shaping up in the Aloha State between Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Either one starts the general election against Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R) as a clear front-runner.

2. Tennessee (D): Despite Democrat Phil Bredesen's eight years as governor, there is a very thin Democratic bench. Mike McWherter, the son of former governor Ned Ray McWherter, could make an intriguing general-election candidate, but the Republican field -- led by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam -- is very strong.

1. Kansas (D): Sen. Sam Brownback (R) has "governor" written all over him.

Countdown

Two days: President Obama campaigns in New Jersey on behalf of Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

Eight days: Obama campaigns in Virginia for state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D).

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