When the White House and allied campaign committees drew up their list of midterm campaigns to prioritize, there was little debate about which race would be their top priority.
The re-election of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has long been considered an uphill battle -- with the Nevada Democrat's approval ratings, then and now, languishing. But as one top party operative put it, "he's the goddamn leader." And, if nothing else, the party protects its leaders.
The attitude has ebbed little even after Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle -- the least formidable candidate of those Reid could have faced -- scored an unexpected primary win. Reid is expected to announce a "monster" fundraising quarter and has "a largely self-sufficient campaign," the operative said. But the Obama administration's political team and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee haven't moved him down the priority list.
In fact, they've begun a process to "drown out" Angle, according to a campaign consultant. Over the past week, Reid and his allies have pushed a flood of stories placing Angle in a rather intolerable light for middle-of-the-road voters. They've been helped by Angle's seemingly inexhaustible propensity for eyebrow-raising statements, ranging from her rigidly pro-life positions (opposition to abortion in the cases of rape and incest) to her sympathies for BP (calling the escrow account set up for victims of the spill a "slush fund").
Top aides admit to taking cues from the failure to re-elect their last Senate leader, Tom Daschle, in 2004. At all costs, the logic goes, make the discussion about the opponent rather than, say, the national political environment.
"The operating theory this entire cycle that given the environment we have to make each race a choice and contrast," said the top operative. "If it's just the Democrats on the ballot for a referendum on Democrats, it is a race much harder to win than a race where it's about a Republican on the ballot who wants to private social security, or eliminate the dept of education."
And so, when President Obama showed up for a fundraiser on Reid's behalf Thursday it was as if both he and the senator were playing slow pitch political softball. Who could hit Angle the hardest?
"Look," said Obama, "Harry Reid's opponent doesn't just believe in these old, worn-out theories. On a lot of these issues, she favors an approach that's even more extreme than the Republicans we got in Washington. That's saying something. That is saying something. I mean, she wants to phase out and privatize Social Security and Medicare."
Getting Obama on the stump, however, is just one component of the rescue Reid operation. And in an effort to make the president's remarks stick, the Democratic National Committee followed the next morning with a new website, labeling Angle a BP Republican.
"Since she took down the [website] with her true positions," a DNC official said, "we thought the voters of Nevada would be interested to know who she's really fighting for."
That site, in turn, will be followed by an even more aggressive effort by Reid to press Angle to explain her controversial positions -- a strategy that started when the Majority Leader re-published his opponent's primary campaign website despite a cease and desist order.
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