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NV-Sen: Saved By The Tea Party?

At first glance, it seems like Harry Reid is catching a huge break:

Sun columnist Jon Ralston is reporting that the Tea Party has qualified as a third party in Nevada and will have a candidate in the Senate race to battle for the seat held by Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The party has filed a Certificate of Existence but needs to get 1 percent of the electorate to vote for its candidate in November to permanently qualify, according to the report.

Ralston reported that Jon Ashjian will be the Tea Party’s U.S. Senate candidate on the November ballot. Ashjian still must declare his candidacy.

Let’s break this down a bit. The Tea Party in Nevada is probably closer to the Ron Paul anti-government, foreign policy isolationist ideal than it is in some other states. Paul did very well in the 2008 Republican primary in Nevada, finishing second behind Mitt Romney (and if there wasn’t a Mormon candidate in Mormon-heavy Nevada, who knows?), and Paul-ites almost captured the Republican Party in 2008 before the GOP establishment stepped in. Heading that GOP establishment was then-state party chair and one of the GOP Senate candidates, Sue Lowden, who is bitterly opposed by the Paul faction in the state.

Lowden may not win; Danny Tarkanian, son of famous former UNLV basketball coach, is also running, and the two are running even. But if Lowden pulls it out, and even if she doesn’t, you could see a significant portion of Nevada Paul-ites switch to the Tea Party candidate just out of spite. That would make this third-party run different than most, capable of pulling 10-15% of the electorate. And I don’t think any of that would come from Reid’s number, which would make him viable to win with 40-45% of the vote.

Reid has $8.7 million in the bank and is out fundraising in California this weekend. So he can blitz the state with advertising from now to the election. Presumably the DSCC will pump a lot of money into that race to try and save the Majority Leader. Until now, it was probably futile. But if the Tea Party candidate can attract a legitimate number of votes, Reid actually has a plausible path to victory.

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David Dayen

David Dayen