Since winning her primary in Nevada, Republican Sharron Angle has been fighting off millions of dollars in attack ads from her opponent, Democrat Sen. Harry Reid. But there’s another option on the ballot for voters in her state that could also threaten her chances at kicking the majority leader out of office: “None of these candidates.”
A 1975 law — the only one of its kind in the country — mandating the option “none of these candidates” appear on the state’s voting rolls could give independent and moderate Republican voters, who can’t bring themselves to vote for either candidate, a place to go. And that would likely help the ever-unpopular Reid, who knows his level of support is unlikely to increase very much with swing-voters.
“That’s my general feeling,” said Dr. David Damore, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Harry Reid has a much better sense of how many votes he’s going to get, where I think it is a little unclear how big of the vote Sharron Angle’s going to get.”
Danny Tarkanian — who lost to Angle in GOP primary but who has since thrown his support her way — said in an interview that Reid’s strategy is clear: vilify Angle so voters that would never vote for him can’t bring themselves to vote for her.
“They want people to be so scared of her that they say, ‘well, I don’t want to vote for Harry Reid because I don’t like him. I don’t want to vote for Sharron Angle because she’s too extreme for me,’” Tarkanian said, echoing Democratic attack lines on the GOP nominee.
But as for the Republicans not getting behind Angle? Tarkanian said supporters of another primary foe — Sue Lowden, who endorsed Angle the night of the primary, but hasn’t done anything to support her since — may not be enthusiastic about the GOP nominee.
“At the state convention they had what they called the Unity Dinner, where they tried to bring the party together, and they asked me and Sue to introduce Sharron Angle to show all of us together,” Tarkanian explained. “I went and did it, but Sue didn’t show up for it. She wouldn’t do it.”
Lowden, the former chairwoman of the state GOP, could not be reached for comment at a number listed for her, and a woman answering the phone at the Nevada State Republican Party headquarters said she wasn’t “at liberty” to give out Lowden’s contact information.
Yet Jerry Stacy, a spokesman for Angle’s campaign, says if you look at the primaries, the “none of the above” problem appears larger for Reid than for Angle. He said more than 10 percent in the Democratic primary chose “none of the above,” compared to only about two percent in the GOP primary.
“Voter intensity is on our side – only 116,042 Democrats bothered to vote in the U.S. Senate primary, but 175,738 Republicans took the time to cast a vote for the same race,” Stacy said. “Voters in Nevada have had enough of Harry Reid and his failed policies, and that’s why it’s been Harry Reid’s strategy to run these smear attack ads and try and distort Sharron Angle’s record.”
A spokeswoman for the Nevada Democratic Party, reached by phone Thursday, did not immediately return a request for comment.
But one well-known Republican in the state expressed bewilderment to The Daily Caller at the number of Republicans who are undecided in the contest, as was on display from private conversations at the funeral for a former Nevada governor, Kenny Guinn, this week.
“I was at his funeral reception yesterday and it blew me away the number of people that told me they didn’t know who to vote for now. They can’t stand either one,” the Republican said of Angle and Reid.
Still, in regards to Angle’s prospects in November, Tarkanian says he’s optimistic, despite Reid’s latest momentum and rise in the polls. “In the long-term, I don’t think enough people will vote for Reid [for him] to win the race… It’s not that people don’t like him, they strongly don’t like him.”
In Nevada, eight candidates — in addition to the “none of these candidates” option — will appear on the ballot, including Reid, Angle, five independent candidates and one Tea Party of Nevada candidate.
Damore, who co-authored a scholarly paper on the subject, said the “none of these candidates” option cannot be declared the victor of a race, though in the past it has brought in the most votes during congressional and presidential primaries. The option, he said, is only included on ballots for federal offices.
While a number of recent polls of the Nevada Senate race do not give respondents the choice to answer “none of these candidates,” a Mason-Dixon poll from earlier this month has “none of these candidates” only taking in five percent, following Reid’s 44 percent and Angle’s 37 percent.
Yet that five percent could play a deciding role in what is expected to be a nail-biter of a contest, Damore said, considering how the margin for victory in past races has been smaller than the “none of these candidates” total.
“I think it certainly can,” the professor said, when asked if it could make a difference in this year’s Senate race between Angle and Reid. “What we find is that it is exactly those types of races where you do see a slight up tick in ‘none of the above’ voting.”