Bitter fights in Pennsylvania, Nevada escalate in final day

Reid-Angle faceoff among closely watched contests

Michelle Obama hugged US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a rally in North Las Vegas yesterday. Michelle Obama hugged US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a rally in North Las Vegas yesterday. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
By Michael R. Blood and Cristina Silva
Associated Press / November 2, 2010

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LAS VEGAS — If the nation’s most closely watched Senate race is a battle, the campaign offices and neighborhoods of recession-ravaged Nevada were the trenches yesterday in the final hours before Election Day.

Volunteers at GOP offices made their best cold-call pitches: Help Sharron Angle beat US Senator Harry Reid. Democrats — one dressed as a chicken to mock Angle’s refusal to take questions from the media — hurried from door to door, urging voters in a state hit hard by unemployment and the housing bust to give the Senate majority leader another chance.

Last-minute and, at times, desperate get-out-the-vote drives picked up speed in the state and across the country, with some key races, like Reid-Angle, so close that they could be decided by just a couple of votes per precinct.

Among the tightest races were in Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Florida, and Illinois, with the outcomes helping determine how close Republicans will get to taking control of the Senate and whether they will gain the majority of governorships.

“I need you in the next few hours,’’ Reid said, alongside Michelle Obama at a suburban Las Vegas rally. “Don’t hope someone else will work harder than you. You need to knock on that extra door. You need to make that extra phone call.’’

Reid’s words were at times drowned out by the roaring crowd, who chanted his name and waved campaign signs.

The Tea Party-backed candidate, Angle, urged her supporters to turn out.

“They understand full well that I am on the verge of ending Harry Reid’s campaign,’’ Angle said in an e-mail.

The intense pace of the final day of campaigning — with television and radio advertisements saturating the airwaves, robocalls ringing tens of thousands of phones, and countless knocks on doors — annoyed some voters.

In Pennsylvania, Shirley Minster, 59, said she has noticed an increase in robocalls in the US Senate race between Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey. And she was not happy about them.

“I think they are an annoyance and it turns me off to even listen to them,’’ said Minster, a Democrat who attended a rally in McKeesport, Pa., that featured Bill Clinton.

The race between Sestak, a US representative and former Navy admiral, and Toomey, a former congressman, to replace five-term Senator Arlen Specter has been a costly affair in which the campaigns, the parties, and advocacy groups spent tens of millions of dollars.

In the Reid-Angle race, spending is expected to surpass $50 million, including millions from labor unions and other outside groups.

A TV advertising shootout has been underway for months: Angle’s ads blame Reid for Nevada’s devastated economy, while Reid has sought to paint Angle as a conservative extremist who would gut Social Security and turn her back on the middle class.

Statewide, Nevada Democrats hold about a 60,000-vote registration edge over the GOP. Early voting figures that track party turnout showed Democrats and their union supporters blunted a surge of Republican enthusiasm in key counties, confirming a tight race.

As of last week, Angle’s campaign said its volunteers contacted voters at least 600,000 times, either by phone or in person. Her volunteers are working several shifts a day at four offices around the state.

At a strip mall in Las Vegas, a Republican office looked like a pre-election assembly line as college students from Brigham Young University furiously dialed up voters. The walls were plastered with Sharron Angle political signs.

One photo was of Reid, with the caption: “Replace this face.’’

Volunteers called up Nevadans and asked if they had voted yet. If they hadn’t, the GOP planned to dispatch volunteers to their doors to make an in-person plea to vote for Angle.

“The reason why I’m here is to protect my future,’’ said volunteer Carl Kimmerley, a 23-year-old BYU junior economics major.

Democrats, meanwhile, targeted hundreds of neighborhoods rich in registered Democrats, from Las Vegas to Reno, with both candidates’ messages sometimes crisscrossing.

As a plane flew overhead in Reno with a banner reading “Anybody But Reid,’’ a young woman in a chicken costume and Assemblyman David Bobzien went door to door. The chicken remained silent, but held a sign that read: “Have You Voted Yet? Vote’’

“I’m walking around with this chicken to drive home the point that Sharron Angle is too chicken to talk to the media,’’ Bobzien said after retiree Craig Rasmussen, 63, opened his door and began laughing.

In Colorado, volunteers at offices for US Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Republican Ken Buck made the final push, fueled by coffee and piles of leftover Halloween candy.

LuAnn Lind, 52, said she has volunteered for Democrats for years and was having a harder time firing up likely supporters this time around.

I’m talking to,’’ Lind said.

In West Virginia, Jarrett Breedlove remained on the fence about Governor Joe Manchin, the Democratic candidate in the closely fought race for the late Senator Robert C. Byrd’s seat.

Breedlove, despite the campaign sticker on his lapel, said he liked Manchin, but remained troubled by Obama.

“I’m leaning a little to the right’’ this election, he said. “We’ve gone a bit too far to the left.’’