HENDERSON, Nev. — Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's chances for six more years in Washington may be like tossing dice in a casino, even if he has made headway against Republican challenger Sharron Angle in a state with the nation's highest rate of joblessness.
The four-term Reid holds a slight lead over Angle in the latest polling, thanks in part to her unsteady performance since winning the June primary and to Democratic ads portraying her as an extremist. Video of Angle scurrying away from reporters has mixed with television commercials of older voters upset about her call to phase out Social Security and Medicare.
But an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press says Reid has a "a serious problem" with voters frustrated with the economy and "receives a great deal of blame." The July 15 memo is based on polling research conducted for Patriot Majority, a union-funded group that is running TV ads against Angle.
The race is wide open, the memo concludes, despite Reid's improved standing and voters' alarm over some of Angle's positions.
"An even playing field is an improvement for Reid, as earlier surveys indicated a much more difficult path to re-election," the memo says. The winner in November will be the candidate "who makes the more persuasive case that he, or she, is more dependable and can be counted on to deliver for Nevada in these tough economic times."
When asked about his standing in the race, Reid on Saturday said he didn't pay attention to fluctuating polls and only cared about the outcome on election day.
"The No. 1 problem we have in Nevada is jobs," he said.
Nevada's unemployment rate of 14.2 percent is the highest on record in the once-booming Silver State and well above the national average of 9.5 percent. A record number of home foreclosures also has rocked the state, as has a decline in tourism — the life blood of Nevada's economy — during the worst recession since the Great Depression.
Voters fault the party in power for the stubborn economic downturn. In Nevada, that's President Barack Obama, who won the state two years ago, and the Democrats who control Congress, led by Senate Majority Leader Reid.
Republican Woody Stroupe, 72, a Las Vegas retiree, says Reid and Democrats in Washington are failing to deal with runaway deficits and illegal immigration. He wants a conservative in the Senate who will support lower taxes.
Reid "is the most powerful man in the Senate. Look at the results," Stroupe said, citing the sour economy.
Reid is struggling to find a convincing message on the economy, particularly one that will resonate with independents and moderates who probably will decide the race. "We have a lot of work ahead of us," he told supporters this month.
Reid has made a massive development on the Las Vegas strip a foundation block of his re-election drive. One of the senator's early campaign ads featured an endorsement from MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren, who credits Reid with using his clout to save the CityCenter project when its financing nearly collapsed during the recession. Reid "called every CEO of every bank that I know," Murren says.
But Angle has said she wouldn't have picked up the phone because private projects must succeed on their own. That reflects her general position that government should cut regulation and keep its distance from business, and she say's Reid's actions for CityCenter might have cost other casinos business.
Angle is trying to recover from a rocky, sometimes embarrassing stretch in which she's attempted to transform her mom-and-pop primary campaign into a multimillion-dollar general election operation. She's hired big-name consultants and startled Reid's campaign by raising more than he did between April and June, $2.6 million to $2.4 million. Reid still holds a commanding financial edge overall — $9 million to her $1.8 million in cash on hand. [See where Reid's campaign cash comes from.]