Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose re-election bid has been bogged down by poor polling numbers the past year, has a seven-percentage-point lead in a new survey after a volley of aggressive TV ads aimed at his Republican challenger.
It's the largest independent poll lead this year for the Nevada Democrat over Sharron Angle, a former state assemblywoman and a "tea party" favorite.
"He is no less vulnerable [now], but what he has shown is he is a seasoned campaigner and she is a greenhorn when it comes to general elections," said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the survey. "That's been the difference in the race for the past month."
Results of the Mason-Dixon poll, released Friday, show Mr. Reid with 44 percent of the vote, compared with 37 percent for Mrs. Angle.
Ten percent of those polled said they were undecided. Five percent said they would vote for neither candidate, while 4 percent selected "other" in the survey, which was conducted on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KLAS-TV Channel 8.
Nevada hasn't escaped the anti-incumbent and anti-Washington fever spreading throughout the nation. Yet Mr. Reid in recent weeks has successfully focused the campaign away from himself and toward Mrs. Angle and her lack of national political experience.
Mr. Reid and his supporters have tried to portray Mrs. Angle - who is backed by former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin - as an extreme conservative out of touch with mainstream public views and who would be an ineffective leader.
"It's not really a case of Harry Reid building strength as much as it is of Harry Reid tearing down Sharron Angle," Mr. Coker said. "For the last month the race has been, 'Do we want to elect Sharron Angle to the Senate?' Where Angle needs to turn it back around to 'Do we want to re-elect Harry Reid?' "
The incumbent, whose campaign holds a sizable cash advantage over Mrs. Angle, has flooded the TV airwaves in recent weeks with attack ads, including a ubiquitous spot in which he takes credit for creating jobs in Nevada while questioning his challenger's ability to do the same if elected.
"Reid has hammered Angle with a lot of paid advertisements, and she had been hammered by the media for maybe some missteps and some comments that are seen as sort of out of the mainstream, and I think the public is responding to that," said Kenneth Fernandez, a University of Nevada-Las Vegas political science professor.
In a state suffering with above average unemployment and a sour economy, Mr. Reid's record of securing millions of federal dollars for Nevada will be difficult for many voters to overlook, Mr. Fernandez added.
"I think prospective voters will say, 'You know what, I don't love Harry Reid, not for a long shot, but I'm going to vote for him,' " he said.
Political experts think it's too early to concede the race to Mr. Reid because Mrs. Angle has plenty of time to woo undecided voters before the Nov. 2 election.
Mrs. Angle, who trailed significantly in the primary polls before making up ground in the final weeks to win, also has a history of finishing elections strong.
And a Rasmussen Reports poll released three days before the Mason-Dixon survey showed the challenger with a three-percentage-point lead over Mr. Reid.
"All this argument that she's too conservative and she's too wacky and too goofy, she can't get elected, they've said that about a lot of Republican candidates in years when the Republican tide was rising," Mr. Coker said.
"Polls are reliable for about three days before the election," added Mr. Fernandez. And "2010 is an unpredictable year."
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