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May 22, 2015

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Political Memo:

Can Sharron Angle make yet another late surge?

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Sue Lowden

Sue Lowden

A few weeks before the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, front-runner Sue Lowden’s campaign got a phone call from a Republican involved in a past campaign against Sharron Angle. He had a sage piece of advice.

“Watch out,” the Republican warned. “Angle breaks late, and she outperforms the polls.”

The advice came a little too late for Lowden, who lost in a surprise landslide to Angle.

In six weeks last spring, Angle went from trailing Lowden by more than 20 points in the polls to winning the election by 14 points.

It wasn’t the first time she had pulled off a surprising last-minute rush of momentum. Although Angle had failed to win in the past, her last two primary campaigns foreshadowed her unexpected win this year.

Three months before her 2006 primary match against former first lady Dawn Gibbons and U.S. Rep. Dean Heller for the 2nd Congressional District, Angle trailed her two opponents by double digits.

By the end of the campaign, she had wrestled the match to a near tie with Heller, losing by just 421 votes.

In 2008, Angle trailed her Republican opponent Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio badly in early voting. On election day, she nearly outperformed him.

Each of Angle’s major primary campaigns had dynamics that contributed to her ability to break late.

In 2006, the Club for Growth funded an expensive television ad campaign for Angle in the waning months. In 2008, Raggio spent heavily on a ground game that bested Angle’s grass-roots support.

Still, Republican operatives who have run campaigns against Angle say not to underestimate her last-minute momentum. Through her years in conservative politics, she’s built a devoted grass-roots base that will turn up at the polls no matter what, they say.

“In all of her races, for whatever reason — and there have been different reasons — she peaks late,” said one Republican operative with experience running a campaign against Angle. “She peaks at the perfect time. But it’s also hard to say whether it’s going to translate into a general election trend.”

Some indications exist that Angle could be developing a late break in her bid to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Public polls have remained in a statistical dead heat, although most indicate Angle is a few points ahead.

Angle has launched into what could be an effective closing argument: Reid has enriched himself during his time in office. (It’s a dubious claim. Reid’s wealth — earned during his time as a lawyer and through land sales — has declined since he took office.)

And given the accelerated period Angle had to build a general election campaign means whatever momentum she might achieve will come late. She had just weeks to put together a team to raise money, develop a media strategy and organize a ground game that will get motivated Republican voters to the polls.

It’s in stark contrast to Reid, who has spent years carefully building a strategy and who has kept together an extremely disciplined staff to methodically carry out that strategy.

But perhaps two factors could play against a repeat late-breaking performance by Angle.

First, the number of undecided voters in this race is minuscule. And of those who have chosen a side, the majority say they aren’t budging from that position.

So, even if Angle were poised for a last-minute run, she doesn’t have a whole lot of voters left out there who might swing her way.

That’s different from the Republican primary this year. Polls in the weeks before the election showed about 13 percent of voters were still undecided.

Second, the U.S. Senate race has been fought for more than a year. Voters are beyond saturated with campaign messages, meaning Angle’s closing argument may not penetrate.

Still, if past elections are an indication, Reid will need to significantly outperform Angle during early voting — which ends Friday — to mitigate any last-minute break Angle may have Nov. 2.

So far, Democrats have maintained a slight turnout edge over Republicans in terms of raw numbers in early voting. But it’s slight.

And that’s little indication either candidate is making for a surprise last-minute surge.

Recount, anyone?

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