JEFFREY BROWN: And back to the campaign and that very closely watched race in Nevada. Judy Woodruff reports, part of our Vote 2010 coverage.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At night, the dizzying lights of Las Vegas and its string of casinos are as bright as they ever were. The gambling capital of the U.S. remains a draw for anyone looking for adult fun.
But daylight reveals just how hard the recession has hit the largest city in what was the fastest-growing state in the country for two decades running. Political analyst Jon Ralston.
JON RALSTON, The Las Vegas Sun: We are the unemployment capital of America. It’s going to get to 15 percent here perhaps. We have the highest foreclosure rate in America. This was the classic boom economy that’s now gone bust. And it’s hurt a lot of people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At times like these, all politicians seeking reelection would expect voter frustration and even anger. But it’s a double-whammy for Nevada’s senior U.S. senator, Harry Reid, who also happens to be the Senate’s highest-ranking Democrat.
FRANK RICOTTA, Clark County, Nevada Republican Party Chairman: Harry Reid has become a Washington power broker. He no longer is there representing the state of Nevada. I mean, he pretty much does the heavy lifting for the president. The president creates the programs. Harry Reid executes the programs.
Thanks for coming out Saturday morning.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tea Party activist and newly elected Republican Party leader here Frank Ricotta capsulizes what motivated him and others who had never been active in politics before to rise up and oppose Reid now, and down the road, President Obama.
FRANK RICOTTA: This government far overreaches its authority. And so we need to start at the local level to elect conservative candidates to support our Constitution and make sure we ensure our freedoms.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ricotta and other Tea Party enthusiasts found their choice to beat Reid in a former state assemblywoman, Sharron Angle, who had been seen as occupying the political fringes, but in the angry atmosphere of 2010 has found support.
With his poll ratings hitting new lows and some ready to write him off, Reid and his allies were watching closely last June when Angle, seen as the weaker GOP candidate, was chosen.
SHARRON ANGLE (R-Nev.) senatorial candidate: Thank you, all. Thank you, all Nevada patriots.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Reid quickly launched a barrage of critical TV spots, singling out statements Angle has made over abolishing Social Security, doing away with the U.S. Department of Education, and approving a nuclear waste facility in Nevada.
NARRATOR: Sharron Angle wants to bring all five million pounds here for reprocessing in Nevada. But one nuclear spill could endanger our families and kill Las Vegas tourism forever.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Soon, polls showed the attacks were doing their job. Angle’s ratings started to drop.
Today, four months and millions of dollars worth of negative advertising later, many from outside political organizations, the race is a dead heat.
MAN: Forward march!
JUDY WOODRUFF: Voters are energized, some in organized Tea Party meetings like this one in Mesquite, Nevada. Rick Crain founded the Tea Party group here.
RICK CRAIN, founder, Mesquite, Nevada, Tea Party: Well, I think it’s the most important election of my — of my life, that — in that, if we don’t change, if Mr. Reid goes back to Washington, then the change that is happening that we are — that is kind of overtaking the country and moving it to the left so strongly will be out of our control.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Reid supporters, like powerful Culinary Workers Union head D. Taylor, argue, Reid has done everything he could to create and preserve jobs and help the unemployed.
D. TAYLOR, Culinary Workers Union, Local 226: When people are laid off and having a tough go, the idea that you wouldn’t extend unemployment benefits, which Angle said she wouldn’t have done, is in my opinion unconscionable, and frankly immoral.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And longtime GOP consultant Sig Rogich, who advised President Reagan and George H.W. Bush, broke ranks with his party because he says no one has done more for Nevada than Harry Reid and because of what he calls Angle’s extreme positions, which he says are unacceptable to national Republican leaders.
SIG ROGICH, founder, Republicans For Reid: They cannot stand side by side with someone who wants to eliminate Social Security. The party can’t accept that kind of thought process, or someone who wants to eliminate entirely all mandates for insurance companies. Why have insurance?
SHARRON ANGLE: We tried it Harry Reid’s way, and it didn’t work.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For her part, Angle has been airing anti-Reid TV spots like this one.
NARRATOR: Want to know just how out of touch Harry Reid is? Spending $787 billion on a stimulus that failed is a start. Or Reid voting to give illegal aliens special tax breaks and Social Security benefits is another big clue.
But here’s the kicker. Reid actually voted to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders. What else could you ever need to know about Harry Reid?
JUDY WOODRUFF: The heavily negative tone of the spots and the fact that they have been blanketing TV has left many Nevada voters with a bad taste in their mouths.
CAROL ANN CHANEY, voter, Nevada: I don’t want to vote, simply because of all of the bashing that’s going on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, when pressed, voters confirm, the ads’ messages are coming through.
CAROL ANN CHANEY: I think that, honestly, it’s unbelievable that one party thinks that another party could be responsible for the economic situation with the housing, when we — when this problem exists in every city and state.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As Election Day draws closer, Reid is holding rallies with groups that are working to get out his vote, like Latinos and this one for unions aimed at senior citizens.
SEN. HARRY REID: So, as long as I’m a member of the United States Senate, no one will mess with Social Security.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: Afterward, Reid acknowledged he’s up against a tough political climate, but said Angle can’t run away from what he says are unacceptable positions she’s taken.
SEN. HARRY REID: The people of Nevada aren’t stupid. I mean, they know what this woman has stood for, not for a few weeks, not for a few months, but years.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m struck by how many people we see in the polls hold you in disfavor. Why are they holding you responsible for this?
SEN. HARRY REID: Well, they’re holding a number of people, me and Obama, principally, even though anyone logically understands that we had nothing to do with creating the problems. They were there when the new Congress started.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We were in Nevada for four days and attended two Reid rallies. But locating an Angle rally was more difficult.
One of the earmarks of this campaign is how hard it is to talk to or even find Sharron Angle. After scores of e-mails and dozens of phone calls, our request for an interview was denied. It was only by talking to a Tea Party activist that we were able to find out she’s due to speak at this hotel.
After we arrived here and saw the “no press” sign, her campaign said she wasn’t coming. The one debate that Angle agreed to, on Las Vegas PBS, aired statewide, gave her a chance to go after Reid face to face. And she did.
SHARRON ANGLE: Man up, Harry Reid.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But it also put her on the spot about previous positions she’s taken.
MITCH FOX, moderator: Before the primary, you used the word privatized. And now you use the word personalized. Why did you change your position on Social Security?
SHARRON ANGLE: Well, because of the idea that personalized covers both private and public.
SEN. HARRY REID: Now, she talks and has for years talked about getting rid of Social Security — for years. Now she’s trying to change her tune.
JUDY WOODRUFF: With early voting under way and only 15 days left, both sides are pushing to get supporters to the polls. And both sides have advantages, for Reid, more registered Democrats in Nevada, a well-organized Democratic ground game, and a divided GOP that has dozens of state Republican officials defecting to support him, rather than the Tea Party- backed Angle.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Professor David Damore.
DAVID DAMORE, professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas: The insider scoop is that Angle has really made no attempts to sort of reach out to establishment Republicans there. Harry Reid has done a nice job creating his Republicans for Reid.
Now, Sharron Angle sort of wears that to some degree as a badge of honor, because as most of the Tea Party, they’re not only just fighting the Democrats, but they’re also fighting the Republican establishment. So she tries to spin that in her favor. But, at the end of the day, it’s made it much more difficult for her to raise money in-state.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Much of the $14 million raised by Angle in the last quarter came from out of state. But, into the home stretch, both have about the same amount on hand. For Angle, the advantage is anger over the economy and the enthusiasm of the right.
JON RALSTON: So the central question then is the enthusiasm gap that exists between the Republicans and the Democrats vs. this Democratic turnout machine. Can they hold their registration advantage, which is five points? Can they not lose too much of it on Election Day?
JUDY WOODRUFF: One other wild card is the Nevada ballot, which includes lines not only for minority parties, but also for none of the above.
David Damore says, with both candidates carrying such high negatives, this could make a difference.
DAVID DAMORE: It helps Harry Reid, right, in the sense that it gives Republicans who maybe can’t vote for Harry Reid, but don’t really cotton with Sharron Angle, that it gives them an out.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But that’s a guessing game. Much of the electorate is expected to vote early. Turnout for the first couple of days is described as average.