LAS VEGAS — Those Nevadans fed up with Washington, as most voters in this state appear to be, have a unique option: They can vote for "none of these candidates."
Yet on Nov. 2, that protest vote could help re-elect the consummate Washington insider, struggling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, since a vote for no one is a vote that Reid's challengers won't get.
"It helps him quite a bit," said David Damore, associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Reid is seeking his fifth term, but polls have shown his support in a 40 percent to 47 percent range for months. He's in trouble because of his role as Washington's most powerful Senate Democrat in championing big government programs.
However, his main opponent, Republican Sharron Angle, an upset winner of the June GOP primary, isn't catching fire either. Angle's an outspoken tea party supporter, and independents and moderate Republicans often find her "a walking set of controversies," as described by Jennifer Duffy, the Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Angle and Reid have been in a virtual tie for weeks, even as one message has dominated the voters' mood.
"In a race like this, people want to show they're fed up with the status quo," Damore said. Though the ballot includes six other independents and third-party candidates, polls suggest that many frustrated voters will turn to the none-of-the-above option.
A statewide CNN/Time/Opinion Research poll taken Oct. 1 to 5 found the just-say-no option polling 10 percent among likely voters. Angle got 42 percent; Reid 40 percent. Among a broader sample of registered voters, none-of-the-above got 15 percent. (Error margins were 3.5 percentage points for likely voters, and 2.5 percentage points for the broader sample.)
Nevada's "none of these candidates" option, adopted in 1975, grew out of efforts after the Watergate scandals to combat voter apathy. If the none-option were to win, the next highest vote-getter would be declared the winner.
That actually happened in 1976, when "none of these" got 16,097 votes in a Republican congressional primary, far more than the two leading candidates.
It rarely makes much difference — though analysts saw it as a big help to Reid in 1998. He won re-election that year by 428 votes — and "none of these candidates" got 8,125.
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