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Election 2010: Reid, Angle make late push in marquee race

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 5:34 PM

LAS VEGAS - Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid strode into his campaign's tiny Summerlin office in the west end of Las Vegas Tuesday morning to a cheering crowd of volunteers and staffers -- and an even bigger phalanx of television cameras and newspaper reporters from all over the country.

Reid stopped by to offer his thanks to volunteers who were busy making phone calls, sorting stacks of hundreds of door hangers and printing walk sheets as they prepared to go door-to-door to urge voters to the polls. Reid is known for a formidable, well-financed ground operation, and that force was in full swing Tuesday, with long-time volunteers, campaign staffers and even Democratic operatives from Capitol Hill diverted to the job of getting out the vote in vote-rich Las Vegas.

Though soft-spoken and halting before the cameras, Reid expressed unwavering confidence that he would prevail against tea-party-backed Republican Sharron Angle once the votes are counted.

"We feel comfortable where we are, and we have a good get out the vote operation," Reid told reporters. "We've done extremely well in the early voting."

One of the volunteers on the phones behind Reid in the crowded office was Christine Lujan, 62, who has been working since April on the Reid campaign. Calling voters with a computerized telephone program, Lujan, who is Latina, is able to talk to both English- and Spanish-speaking voters. She's a lifelong Democratic volunteer who lived in northern New Mexico for many years and moved to Nevada when her husband got a job here in the uranium mining business.

She said her primary motivation is to block Angle, who she said is "just too extreme."

"I don't like what she represents," Lujan said. "To be honest with you, I've been praying that Sen. Reid wins."

Angle, who lives in Reno, voted at her local precinct midmorning Tuesday and was planning to visit a local party of supporters there before flying to Las Vegas for the Republican Party's victory party at the Venetian casino.

It is the marquee race of the year: the all-powerful Senate majority leader against the scrappy tea-party favorite. Nearly $60 million has been spent. Accusations have been hurled. She was "extreme," he "disastrous." In a race equally defined by his unpopularity and her penchant for speaking outside the mainstream, it seemed equally remarkable that neither could surpass the other.

On Election Day, Reid and Angle remain pretty much where they stood at the start of the summer: in a dead heat, according to most polls.

The outcome, if it is known Tuesday night, will be broadly interpreted: either as a rejection of Reid's partnership with President Obama during his first 18 months in office, or as a repudiation of Angle's embrace of the tea party movement's anti-government fervor.

Yet in the end, the result could just as well reflect a calculated choice of the lesser of two evils at a time when Nevada's economy is so stalled that there is appeal in neither the man already in power nor the woman who resolutely opposes using government programs to help turn things around.

Both campaigns say they feel great going into Election Day. Angle's folks point to the fact that a higher proportion of registered Republicans have voted in early voting than the proportion of registered Democrats. State Democrats say the Republican turnout advantage is not wide enough to overcome the fact that there are more Democrats in raw numbers in Nevada, particularly in vote-rich Clark County, home of Las Vegas. In past elections, when Republicans boasted an even bigger turnout advantage than this year's, Democrats have won elections, according to Democratic officials.

"We're polling with a double-digit lead among independents, so the independents will be the vote that probably decides this election," said Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen. "Since the debate, our lead with independents has been growing. So we feel very good going into tomorrow."

Countered Zachary Petkanas, a spokesman for Reid: "We're pleased to have the momentum coming out of early vote, with Democrats not only energized but outpacing Republicans by nearly 9,000 votes. Until the last vote is cast this evening, our campaign will continue to contrast Sen. Reid's ability to deliver for Nevada in these tough economic times versus Sharron Angle's extreme and dangerous agenda for Nevada on everything from killing Social Security to privatizing the VA."

Now, it all comes down to turning out the base. Reid's reputation for having built a formidable organization in Nevada was assumed early on to give him an advantage, and dozens of Democratic staffers from congressional offices and partisan committees have escaped the inaction in Washington to lend a hand here. But Angle's campaign has attracted a national grass-roots army ,too, with tea party activists pitching in from across the country.

Reid's primary liabilities include both an awkwardness that makes him less than a natural political campaigner and a reputation as a big-government Democrat who presided over the Senate during Nevada's worst economic crisis in a generation. The state boasts the highest unemployment rate in the nation, the highest foreclosure rate and the highest credit-card delinquency rate.

His advantage is that he has directed millions in federal dollars to Nevada to help ease the pain of the recession - but that fact doesn't appease Angle or her supporters, who claim they want to end such pork-barrel spending.

Angle's liabilities include a string of documented statements in which she takes positions that a majority of Nevadans do not share: a desire to phase out Medicare and Social Security, to eliminate the federal departments of education and energy, an unwillingness to mandate any rules on health insurers.

Angle has even suggested that she favors reviving plans to turn Yucca Mountain, just 90 miles east of the Las Vegas Strip, into a repository for nuclear waste. It is a deeply unpopular position among Nevadans.

Her advantages include the ardor of her supporters, and the straightforward, even folksy, way she gets across her message to voters - a talent for retail campaigning that is even more obvious because it is a skill her opponent generally lacks. It is one reason Angle bested two other well-financed opponents in her surprise victory in the Republican primary last June.

The Washington Post has reporters out in 10 states on Election Day. Follow all the feeds at PostPolitics.

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