Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 | 2:01 a.m.
It’s the turnout, stupid.
Beyond the salient discussion of Sharron Angle’s secret knowledge of terrorists who say “eh?” and her mysterious Asian heritage, and the wondrous discovery that staid Harry Reid consorts with supermodels (“Hey, I have a pad at the Ritz, baby.”) and likes to bribe seniors when he isn’t scaring them, who is really listening anymore?
I’d guess only a few thousand Nevadans, if that many, remain undecided and could be swayed by anything at this point. If people didn’t know by now that Harry Reid’s mind tends to wander in public and private, often causing him to make inappropriate (albeit sometimes painfully accurate) comments, where have they been? And if folks don’t realize by now that letting Sharron Angle loose in any setting, friendly or hostile, might result in a YouTube-ready moment with comments usually reserved for Ripley, what state have they been living in?
At this point, after the tens of millions of dollars spent on television on sometimes entertaining, often mind-numbing ads seeking to define the two candidates, the real issue is whether the enthusiasm gap will indeed trump the Democratic machine.
This is a question being asked in every state in the country. But in Nevada, there is a nuance: Never before has a significant portion of the electorate been as enthused to vote against a politician as about half the voters are to vote against Harry Reid. And never before has a party erected a turnout apparatus — and needed it as badly — as the Democrats have constructed this cycle to save the senator.
I have often said the machine put together for the early presidential caucus in 2008 was a first-generation product, a prototype for the Democratic infrastructure really designed to help Harry Reid win his most difficult race in a life filled with close calls. Is there any other senator in the country who has been involved in not one, but two Senate races decided by a few hundred votes — and who may be headed for a third?
Everything that has happened this year in the Reid campaign has been on an uncomplicated checklist that has arrived at the final task. It reads something like this:
A. Raise a fortune.
B. Batter Sue Lowden during the spring so she comes out of the June 8 primary wounded, ready for the killing blow; if by some chance we get lucky and get Sharron Angle, all the better.
C. On June 9, begin campaign to equalize negatives — no-holds-barred, relentlessly on-message destruction of opponent.
D. On Oct. 16, turn the key on The Greatest Turnout Machine Ever, designed to drag Democrats out of houses if necessary to save the senator and blunt the enthusiasm gap.
Having crossed off the first three, with some of the most beautifully ugly execution in campaign annals, the Reid campaign is now working on the fourth.
The Angle campaign had its own checklist since she emerged from that shocking, landslide primary win:
A. Generally stay away from all media (except Bill Manders, Heidi Harris, Lars Larson, a certain “newspaper” on Bonanza Road and anyone on Fox News Channel).
B. Don’t talk about anything but Harry Reid and the economy, with maybe a dash of Obamacare and illegal immigration.
C. Try to raise money from anti-Reid factions across the country and hope American Crossroads and the Club for Growth are all in.
D. Pray the enthusiasm gap is large enough to make up for changing all those positions, denying others — and the overwhelming likelihood of continuing, controversial statements.
Team Angle has not been as flawless as the Reid folks, but with the help of some seasoned pros who came in to transform a jalopy into a race car, and with the infusion of $14 million (and more coming in) at crunchtime, she is on the cusp of a remarkable upset.
So what do we know so far? Not a lot. I have three days worth of data to peruse, just under a fourth of the 14-day total. Despite reports elsewhere, the Republicans have yet to show any unusual surge in voting, and The Reid Machine is holding its own.
So far, in the state’s two urban counties, the Republicans have less than a percentage point edge in turnout. If the Republican turnout edge by the end of early voting is 5 percent or so — standard for a midterm — the Democrats will be pretty happy, albeit edgy.
Reid needs a small GOP margin to survive. It comes down to something either candidate might say in an unguarded moment if asked by an innocent voter what the election is really all about:
It’s the turnout, stupid.