- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2010

DENVER | Between Democratic incumbent Harry Reid’s gaffes and Republican challenger Sharron Angle’s misfires, the winner of the Nevada Senate race may be the first candidate who can stop talking.

Last week saw Mr. Reid weigh in with one of his trademark rhetorical misfires, this one aimed at Hispanic Republicans. The Senate majority leader told a gathering of Hispanic supporters that “I don’t know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican. OK? Do I need to say more?”

It took about 10 seconds before the blogosphere was alight with reminders that state Attorney General Brian Sandoval, who’s running for Nevada governor, is a Republican of Hispanic descent. It’s likely that Mr. Reid has heard of him because the Democratic nominee in that race is Rory Reid, Mr. Reid’s eldest son.

The remark “was his typical glib, poorly-phrased broadside,” as Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston put it. It was also ill-timed: A day earlier, Mrs. Angle was the one under fire by the Reid campaign for failing to invite the Latino media to a press conference.

Mr. Reid’s crack about Hispanic Republicans overshadowed any negative press that the Angle campaign might have received about the alleged snub.

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“She kind of caught a break on that because then Harry Reid came out and saved her,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada at Reno.

At the same time, however, the Reid campaign launched a new television ad featuring a tape of Mrs. Angle from a radio interview in which she defended the right of gun ownership this way: “If Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.”

The ad’s narrator, a Nevada police officer, says, “It’s crazy. What she’s actually talking about is armed resistance.”

Mr. Reid’s political obituary had been written many times before Mrs. Angle, a conservative “tea party” favorite, unexpectedly won the Republican primary in May. The Reid campaign quickly mobilized to define her as a wacky, out-of-the-mainstream right-winger.

The strategy has paid off in that Mr. Reid, who was trailing Republicans in hypothetical matchups before the primary, is now running even with Mrs. Angle. Both candidates also have negative ratings topping 40 percent, meaning that the race is likely to be decided by which candidate the voters dislike the least.

“He’s smart enough to know that if this campaign is about him, he’s going to lose,” said Las Vegas Republican consultant Ryan Erwin. “She walked into this race with very low name ID. She’s now been defined by Harry Reid and now she has to redefine herself.”

Mrs. Angle has struggled to find her footing on sensitive issues like Social Security, after years of backing calls to privatize the system. The former state lawmaker now says she supports private investment options for the national retirement plan, but has decided that the government could still administer it.

Last week, she praised Chile’s system as an example of a successful government-sponsored, personalized pension plan, drawing hoots from critics who argued that the Chilean model is flawed and, what’s more, tainted because it was established under former military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The question is whether Mr. Reid - far more respected as a master of the Senate cloakroom than as a spellbinding public speaker - can control his tongue long enough to take advantage of Mrs. Angle’s missteps. His recent history suggests otherwise:

c July 2010: Mr. Reid responds to a question about the large illegal immigrant work force in Nevada by saying, “That may be someplace, but it’s not here in Nevada.” According to the Pew Hispanic Center study, Nevada’s construction industry, at 17 percent, has more illegal workers than that of any other state.

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