The Trouble for Harry? Sharron's Up Off the Mat.

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It's been a while since The Gaggle checked in on the Nevada Senate race. According to a poll today in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, it's a mud-wrestle, with Democrat Harry Reid leading the GOP's Sharron Angle 46 percent to 44. Neither candidate is exactly endearing himself or herself to anyone. Reid is seen unfavorably by 51 percent and favorably by 40 percent of Nevadans. Angle is viewed unfavorably by 45 percent and favorably by 37 percent.

With the polls settling into a Reid lead within the margin of error, is the Senate majority leader's glass half-full or half-empty? On one level, Reid has reason to be thrilled. Before the GOP nominated a Tea Party darling as his challenger, he had been written off for dead, saddled with poor personal ratings, Nevada's worst-in-the-nation unemployment rate (14.2 percent), and inestimable baggage as the face of an unpopular Congress. Nonetheless, the stabilizing polls suggest Democrats may have reached at least a temporary ceiling in attempts to paint Angle as a loose-lipped Frankenstein of the conservative right.

One reason? Angle is finally fighting back. For weeks after she won the June 8 GOP primary, Democrats were effective in highlighting Angle's blurred conception of the divide between church and state and enthusiastic embrace of positions such as abolishing the federal Department of Education and privatizing Social Security. Angle, cash-strapped after the grueling primary, largely let Reid's attack ads go unanswered and became a figure of fun for ducking media interviews.

Since then, however, her fundraising has turned the corner, and Angle has expanded her communications team. This week she sought to rebut Reid's attacks with an ad promising to "save" Social Security. As an elderly audience nods sympathetically in the background, she advocates turning the scheme into a "lockbox" free from government interference (echoing the term Al Gore first popularized in the 2000 presidential election). But the Reid campaign has accused her of rewriting her past position.

The Angle campaign is pursuing a very simple strategy: parry all attacks, smooth all edges, do whatever it takes. If the Nevada race ends up being Sharron Angle, "wacky aunt who's just come down from the attic," then Reid wins. It's certainly the none-too-subtle implication in his latest ad. This quotes a Republican and member of the National Rifle Association describing Angle's previous ramblings on conservative talk radio about the Second Amendment as "crazy" and "dangerous." "What she's actually talking about is armed resistance," the man says.

The GOP strategy involves putting Reid squarely in the dock for the state of the country—in Angle's words, "the economy, the economy, the economy." It remains to be seen whether such a focus will work—as November gets closer, Reid will argue that his stature in the Senate is the best guarantee for his home state. But at the very least, it points to an emerging irony in this year's midterms. Tea Party candidates —think Rand Paul in Kentucky, Ken Buck in Colorado, and, of course, Angle—are grabbing the GOP nomination in key Senate races, edging out less risky "establishment" choices. Yet once they get there, their best hope of winning the general election lies in downplaying the kooky conservatism and harnessing a broader message of discontent with Washington.

A warning, perhaps, to Democrats, that no challenger is ultimately unelectable no matter what teapot he or she drinks from.

The Trouble for Harry? Sharron's Up Off the Mat. | U.S.