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Perhaps more than any other campaign in the country, Republicans and Democrats are betting that race could be the trump card in Nevada.
Indeed, Latinos have been accusing the state’s tea-party-backed Republican Senate candidate, Sharron Angle, of race baiting by running ads with ominous-looking Hispanic men crossing the U.S. border.
Angle’s campaign, meanwhile, has begun to charge her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, with “playing the race card” as he seeks to capitalize on Angle’s gaffes in front of local Latino students and a GOP ad urging Hispanics to not vote.
Both candidates clearly see the immigration issue as one that has the potential to get their base voters to the polls before or on Nov. 2. And it appears to be resonating, even though the state is suffering from more than 14 percent unemployment and the economy had been seen as the issue that would dominate the campaign.
“It depends on who ends up winning that motivation battle,” said one GOP strategist familiar with the Reid-Angle contest. “Angle is trying to motivate voters who are angry with our broken borders ... versus Reid trying to motivate Hispanic voters.”
The strategist added that it’s difficult to discern whose voters will be more fired up when the final votes are cast.
“He has helped us motivate our people just as much as she’s motivated his,” the strategist said.
Reid’s campaign appears to have been invigorated in recent days after a video surfaced Monday of Angle telling a group of Latino high school students that the menacing men in her anti-immigration ad were not necessarily Hispanic. To prove her point, she told the Hispanic Student Union at Rancho High School in Las Vegas, “I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”
The same day, an outside group run by a GOP activist announced it would begin airing ads encouraging Nevada Hispanics to sit out the election as a protest against Democratic leaders’ inaction on immigration reform this year. Bowing to pressure from Hispanic leaders, the Spanish language television network Univision decided not to air it.
Though Reid was criticized for not being aggressive enough against Angle in their sole debate last week, Reid went on the offensive this week with biting attacks on Angle.
“As I look out over this crowd, I really don’t know what my opponent was talking about because you all look like Nevadans to me,” Reid said at a rally in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
He also criticized Angle for not coming out immediately to denounce the “Don’t Vote” ad. “How can she possibly not speak out against what they’ve done?” Reid said, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
But Angle’s campaign said Reid is improperly using the race issue to attack a woman who has Hispanic grandchildren.
“Desperate politicians do despicable things when they are losing the political battle, including playing the race card, and Sharron finds that shameful,” Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy said in an e-mail. “It’s Harry Reid who divides; whether it concerns skin color or dialects of somebody running for political office, or questioning the political affiliation of patriotic Hispanics, it’s Harry Reid’s very own comments which prove that it is Harry Reid himself who is out of touch with our community.”
Republicans have tried to exploit Reid’s own blunders, including when he professed to not understand why some Latinos would vote for Republicans as well as his controversial comments about President Barack Obama’s being “light-skinned” and having “no Negro dialect.”
An Energized Bloc
Still, Angle’s comments and the GOP ad, which Hispanic leaders have dubbed an attempt at voter suppression, appear to have energized a voting bloc that Reid desperately needs if he is to eke out a victory in the race. The two have been tied in the polls for months.
Camila Gallardo, spokeswoman for Democracia Ahora, said the group’s Nevada arm has seen more enthusiasm in recent weeks from Latinos seeking to take on Angle’s “dangerous and irresponsible” behavior, which Gallardo said amounted to “race baiting.”
Gallardo said Democracia Ahora has registered close to 8,000 voters for this election. The Hispanic Institute, another activist group, recently announced it has registered an additional 10,000 Latino voters in Nevada. Hispanics make up about 12 percent of registered voters in Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
And if a partisan enthusiasm gap exists, it hasn’t emerged yet in Nevada, as Las Vegas political reporter and pundit Jon Ralston reported Wednesday. Ralston noted that Republicans only enjoy a slight 1 percent edge in turnout in Nevada’s two biggest counties. Early voting began Oct. 16.
DREAMing of a Win
Reid has long seen Hispanic voters as his key to victory in Nevada. Many pundits viewed his promise to bring immigration reform to the floor this year as a purely political move. But a bill never made it there, and Reid blamed Republicans for refusing to negotiate.
Then shortly before Congress adjourned for the elections, Reid also attempted to tee up a vote on the DREAM Act as part of his planned debate on the defense authorization bill. Republicans blocked the Senate from moving to the authorization for a variety of reasons, including the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for illegal-immigrant children who join the military or go to college.
Latino activists as well as union organizers in Nevada said they have been targeting Hispanic voters on behalf of Democrats by noting that immigration reform is a “jobs” issue.
But Reid’s campaign argued that the race issue is not the only reason that the embattled Majority Leader is keeping the race competitive.
“It’s not just Sharron Angle’s remarks, like telling a group of Hispanic students they look like Asians, that are motivating Nevadans to vote for Sen. Reid,” said Reid campaign spokesman Kelly Steele. “It’s Angle’s extreme positions on everything from killing Social Security to eliminating the Department of Education to dismantling the Veterans Administration by privatizing it.”
Best Friend to ‘Illegal Alien’
Republicans said their voters are energized by the anti-immigration-reform message that Angle has been touting, noting that Angle’s poll numbers started to improve this fall when she began running ads criticizing Reid for being, among other things, “the best friend an illegal alien ever had.”
Angle’s campaign also touted Tuesday’s appearance in Reno by controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was there to motivate tea party enthusiasts and to talk about the need to be more aggressive in combating illegal immigration.
And rather than denouncing the “Don’t Vote” ad as did Nevada GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval, who is Latino, Angle appeared to try to sidestep the issue a bit.
“This outside group is running their ad because Harry Reid and other Democrats took them for granted and failed to deliver for them,” Stacy said in an e-mail Tuesday. “With the worst unemployment in the nation at 14.4%, we can understand why people would not want to vote for Harry Reid, and the Angle campaign is encouraging all registered voters to come to the polls because America needs a new direction to get our economy back on track.”