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August 2, 2015

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Politics:

Harry Reid inching ahead of Sharron Angle, new poll finds

But turnout remains key to either candidate’s win

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

For weeks, public polling in the U.S. Senate race has told the story of a neck-and-neck fight between Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican rival Sharron Angle.

But on Friday, a survey by a noted Republican pollster showed Reid pulling ahead for the first time since the early days of the general election campaign.

According to the results, the Democrat leads Angle 45 percent to 40 percent. The 5-point advantage is just barely above the margin of error, meaning the statistical tie might have been broken.

The poll could also indicate Democratic voters, who have been dispirited, are starting to engage as Election Day nears and that Reid’s unrelenting barrage of attacks against Angle is motivating them.

But it could also be a reflection of one of the most difficult tasks a pollster has: designing a sample universe that represents the electorate that will actually make it to voting booths.

The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, used a sample that almost exactly reflects the partisan breakdown in the state: 42 percent Democrat, 37 percent Republican and 18 percent nonpartisan. The poll was conducted for the Retail Association of Nevada.

Voters, of course, don’t always show up at the polls on Election Day in the same proportions as they’re registered.

Other recent polls in the campaign put the race even. In those surveys, pollsters assumed Republicans will vote in greater proportional numbers than Democrats and made up 40 percent to 41 percent of the sample.

These are the key questions for pollsters: Will an invigorated base drive higher GOP turnout? Or will Democrats’ well-organized, well-financed get-out-the-vote machine ensure that their base votes?

“In this case, the sample was equivalent to registration,” said Republican strategist Robert Uithoven, who has used Public Opinion Strategies and found it to be accurate in Nevada. “It would have to assume that turnout would identically model registration and that seems very unlikely in this cycle.”

If turnout matches registration, Uithoven said, Democratic candidates up and down the ticket will be swept into office.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that will occur,” he said.

Glen Bolger, principal pollster at Public Opinion Strategies, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

National polls have shown Republicans more energized this election than Democrats, typical for the party that doesn’t control the White House between presidential races.

But Reid spent the past week focused heavily on giving his base a reason to come out. He pushed for a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military and tried to pass a portion of immigration reform. Both efforts failed after being opposed by Republicans.

Next week, Reid will be joined by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, to highlight the benefits of health care legislation passed this year. Almost all Democrats have shied away from that controversial, and generally unpopular, piece of legislation. But Reid could believe that he needs to remind Democrats of some legislative successes he’s helped the party attain this year.

The new poll could also be an indication that the base is starting to congeal.

Sig Rogich, a Republican and adviser to Reid, noted that Republican governors Kenny Guinn and Jim Gibbons have used Public Opinion Strategies.

He said Democrats are starting to pay attention, and Reid’s organization has been identifying supporters. “I think Harry Reid will have an exceptionally good turnout model,” he said.

Sig Rogich

Sig Rogich

Reid has helped build the Democrats’ heavily funded turnout organization, which Republicans lack. Their ability to identify and persuade their supporters to get to the polls could justify the over-sample in the new poll.

But Uithoven argues turnout depends on voters actually making the decision to vote.

“They do have superb organization, but elections still require action by the voter,” he said. “You could have the best organization in the world, but if the voters themselves are not motivated to take it upon themselves to go vote, it doesn’t matter.”

The poll also showed encouraging news for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, who has trailed his Republican rival Brian Sandoval by double digits in most publicly released polls. The poll had him trailing by just 6 points. That news could give Democrats a burst of much-needed energy as well.

Harry Reid’s spokesman Kelly Steele said the poll shows Angle’s campaign is flailing.

Despite Angle’s attacks and help from outside groups, her “campaign has continually failed to move the needle,” Steele said.

Angle’s campaign did not return calls for comment.

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