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July 30, 2015

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Can infusion of cash buy an edge for Sharron Angle in Senate race?

$14 million fundraising haul provides her cash to match Reid as they fish for last undecided voters

MUST-DOS, SHOULDN’TS AND DON’TS

Republican Sharron Angle and Democrat Harry Reid have been fishing from separate piers — campaigning almost exclusively before friendly audiences.

For Angle, it has been conservative radio shows. For Reid, Democratic volunteers. Tonight, they will make their first and only joint appearance before a mainstream audience — in a televised debate — and attempt to lure in the hidden few undecided voters who could swing this election.

Here’s a look at what Reid and Angle must accomplish and avoid during the contest (6 p.m., VegasPBS).

Sharron Angle:

Undermine perceptions created by Reid’s ad barrage.

Much of what the public knows about Angle is gleaned from Reid’s ads, which have sought to paint her as “extreme and dangerous.”

Angle has a reputation for connecting with voters one-on-one. She’ll work to convey that on TV.

“Sharron Angle has to come across as senatorial and has to come across as normal and likable,” Republican strategist Ryan Erwin said.

Avoid defending or explaining her record as a state legislator.

Angle must focus on hammering her main campaign theme: Reid — and the Democratic agenda — is responsible for Nevada’s economic suffering.

Avoid a momentum-killing gaffe.

Angle has been prone to one-liners, providing Reid with fodder for attack ads. She has said it’s not her job to create jobs, suggested women impregnated through rape or incest turn a “lemon situation into lemonade” by choosing to give birth and implied voters will take up arms if Republicans don’t win this election.

Her task will also include avoiding contradicting herself despite moderating some of her positions since the primary.

Harry Reid:

Avoid a momentum-killing gaffe.

If anyone has bested Angle in the gaffe-count this campaign, it’s Reid. Whether he’s deriding Hispanics who vote Republican, advocating the virtues of sex or lamenting the smell of tourists, Reid is adept at the cringe-inducing one-liners.

“For Harry Reid, there’s a charming side to him that doesn’t come through very often,” Erwin said. “He has to be likable.”

Remind viewers of Angle’s inconsistencies.

Whether denying her previous statements or moving away from her Republican primary positions, Angle has a tendency to fail the consistency test. Reid will likely spend time reminding viewers of that tendency.

Communicate succinctly.

Reid is known as a master strategist, not a master communicator.

His longtime adviser Billy Vassiliadis said Reid’s challenge will be to convey his message within the debate’s 60-second time limit for responses.

“He is the great explainer,” Vassiliadis said. “He needs to stay focused on what he needs to say. He tends to want to tell you everything he knows.”

— Anjeanette Damon

The superlatives to describe Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s $14.3 million fundraising haul came fast this week: stunning, breathtaking, staggering. But the most important one is: game-changing.

Angle emerged from the GOP primary in June with almost no money to wage a campaign against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who began building a $20 million war chest in 2005.

Because Reid is an unpopular figure and top target for Republicans nationally, most expected Angle to find a deep well of out-of-state money to quickly infuse her campaign with cash. But the sheer size of her third-quarter haul — it took her only three months to raise the same amount Reid did in 18 months — caught off guard many political observers.

The money not only instantly leveled the playing field for Angle financially, it provided her campaign with a desperately needed credibility boost and momentum heading into the final weeks of the race. It also gives the Republican at the top of the ticket the resources to organize a voting base that is more motivated to cast ballots than the opposition’s core supporters.

“The story of this cycle is Harry Reid’s money versus the Republican volunteers,” Republican political consultant Ryan Erwin said. “Now, it could be Republican volunteers, plus Republican money going against Harry Reid’s money. That shifts the playing field in an enormous way.

“The perception has been Harry Reid has his machine and Sharron Angle has this ragtag effort to compete. Now she has shown that she can compete with Harry Reid’s machine.”

Still, some questioned how well Angle will capitalize on the last-minute windfall at a point when most voters have made up their minds, are certain about their choices and the airwaves are saturated with expensive ads.

“You can never convince a campaign that there’s a diminishing marginal return,” said Jonathan Krasno, a professor of political science and campaign finance expert at Binghamton University in New York. “Fourteen million is nice, and it’s certainly better than a stick in the eye. But I doubt very much that 14 million is better than 13 million, or 12 million, or 11.

“If you’re watching ‘CSI’ and see three campaign ads back to back to back, what are you getting out of the third?” Krasno said.

Within moments of Angle’s announcement, Reid’s campaign began questioning the size of the haul.

Angle, who is in the midst of an expensive television ad campaign, hasn’t said how much money she has spent. The deadline to report the number is Friday.

But it does take money to raise money. And Angle uses the Washington, D.C., direct-mail fundraising firm Base Connect, which has been criticized for keeping commissions of up to 80 percent on the money collected for its clients. Base Connect confirmed this week that Angle is a client, but representatives did not return calls seeking information on how much it charged her.

Angle has been focused almost solely on raising money. She’s run a relentless direct-mail and Internet campaign to rake in small contributions and has traveled the country headlining big-ticket fundraisers in Washington, New York and Texas.

In a news release, Angle claimed more than 194,000 individual donors with an average contribution of $90.

If that is the case, Angle has built a small-donor network that could make her a powerful political force, one that could fuel conservatives for many election cycles to come if she wins. Had she built it earlier in the campaign, she could have returned several times to those donors asking them to help fund her fight against Reid.

Still, some argue the numbers overstate her appeal because the donors are contributing not to see Angle win, but to see Reid defeated.

“Harry Reid would be a huge pelt on their belt,” Democratic consultant and Reid adviser Billy Vassiliadis said of national Republicans. “You think they are contributing to Sharron Angle?”

Another factor limiting how useful the money will be for Angle is that with less than three weeks until Nov. 2, most television spots have been purchased. The price of bumping ads is much higher than it was at the end of the last fundraising quarter.

Fourteen million dollars may not go so far as it did then and until the Angle campaign completes its quarterly campaign finance report, it’s anybody’s guess as to how much of that cash is on hand to be spent.

With most voters in Nevada aligned with one candidate or the other, the attention shifts to turnout efforts. Reid has said he will spend $5 million identifying his supporters and getting them to the polls.

Angle has the resources to match that, if not the time.

“It’s got to go to get-out-the-vote and ground game,” Erwin said of Angle’s money.

On that front, Angle’s potentially at a disadvantage. Her campaign took off only after the June primary and with a staff relatively new to Nevada, and she doesn’t have the institutional knowledge and framework that help to mobilize voters.

Campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College in Maine, says that is one area where extra money can help.

“They probably already have the whole voter files of the registered voters … and much of her support may come from individuals who are not regular voters,” he said. “The money allows them to put more into making phone calls, identify more individuals who might be undecided, and put more people out there knocking on doors in the final days of the campaign.”

But, Krasno said, advertising will still take precedence.

“If I convince you to vote for Angle instead of Reid, I didn’t gain one vote, I gained two — because I flipped you,” Krasno said. “That has a huge effect on the psychology of campaigns … the only problem with that is that if somebody’s sitting in their home in Winnemucca still trying to figure out who to vote for, they’re probably not really a vote switch.”

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