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July 31, 2015

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Jon Ralston:

Is presidential race a replay of Reid-Angle?

Wherever the insurgent and surging Republican candidate went, the name linked to the Democratic incumbent could be heard with a sneer: Saul Alinsky, the leftist community organizer and author of “Rules for Radicals.”

Ridiculing the Establishment favorite and fading front-runner as insufficiently conservative, the fiery former underdog continued an unlikely march to the nomination.

And over at Democratic Party headquarters, they high-fived each other over their money already spent to damage the anointed front-runner and their good fortune that the candidate they most wanted to face could actually win.

I speak not of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination fight between the reanimated Newt Gingrich and the animatronic Mitt Romney but of the 2010 U.S. Senate race between the given-up-for-dead Sharron Angle and the anointed one, Sue Lowden. But the similarities are striking and, perhaps, instructive of what is to come in the race for the White House, explaining both the GOP Brahmin panic and the confetti being unpacked in Chicago and the West Wing.

No two campaign situations, no matter how similar, are truly alike. Nor do I suggest Newt Gingrich is Sharron Angle — both radical in their non-Alinsky way — or that Mitt Romney is Sue Lowden — both Establishmentarian in their own way.

But I have for quite some time been amazed at how similar the race dynamics truly are, with a surprising rise by someone considered dead, fueled by an opponent’s blasé performance and unforced gaffes, and turbocharged by a large amount of money from an unexpected source. Sheldon Adelson is not the Tea Party Express, which fueled Angle’s ascension to overtake the moneyed Lowden, but his $10 million for the Gingrich-aligned super PAC has been as essential to Gingrich’s separation from the Bainfully rich Romney.

Angle invoked Alinsky in 2010 almost as often as Gingrich has this cycle, one of those dog whistles that only a few of the yapping faithful hear but nevertheless a routine part of the campaign patter. Her rise was as surprising as Gingrich’s as she rocketed by Lowden and never looked back — until she crashed to Earth in the general, that is.

Of all the analogies, though, the one rings the most true and should frighten Republicans the most, no matter how they feel about any of the candidates: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was as dead as Jacob Marley in the run-up to Campaign ’10 and only was resuscitated by a fantastic campaign, perhaps one of the best in American history, and a flawed opponent whom he helped choose by pummeling the favorite during the GOP primary.

President Obama’s numbers are not quite as upside down as Reid’s were, but the economy, health care reform and general dissatisfaction have made him seem as moribund as Reid seemed at the same time in 2010. All that could revive him was the Republicans playing into his hands and a spectacular ground game to get Democrats out to vote.

Déjà vu time, folks.

The Democrats now have the best of all possible worlds as they have driven up Romney’s negatives, just as Reid did with Lowden and she did to herself (remember, Chickens for Checkups?) and Gingrich’s unfavorable rating routinely is twice his favorable number. The Democrats want Gingrich because of his vast unpopularity with a general electorate, but thanks to Bain, taxes and more, which makes Chickens for Checkups look like a flesh wound, they are fine with Romney, too.

I was often asked two questions in the wake of the spectacular Reid victory in 2010 — and no, black helicopter set, I’m not talking about the one about how he fixed the balloting.

The first is whether Angle could have done anything to win. I’m not sure she could have, especially because she waited too long to get professional help.

Gingrich has campaign pros, but can they control his Angle-like tendency to extemporize? Not for long. Nobody puts Newt in a corner.

The other question was whether, if she had won, Lowden could have defeated Reid. I doubt it. She was too aloof, too unprepared, too susceptible to missteps. I think the Reid machine would have torn her apart by November.

Lowden could have dispensed with the chickens issue in a day but let it fester. So, too, could Romney have been better prepared for the request for his tax returns or his record at Bain, but instead it seems as if his team has a war room where everyone seems surprised there actually is war going on.

This truly does not bode well for the GOP, if you believe the Reid-Angle analogy is even close to apt. But perhaps a recent development can give Republicans hope that the scenarios are dissonant, that this year the GOP has a different angle to play: Sue Lowden has endorsed … Newt Gingrich.

That ought to make it all better.

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