Just a few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was preparing for one of the toughest fights of his career against Republican Sue Lowden, the candidate who seemed most likely to win next week's Nevada's Republican Senate primary.
But the race for the Republican spot on the ballot has suddenly become too close to call, as Lowden has surrendered a 10-point lead since last month and is now nearly tied with Sharron Angle, a former state assemblywoman endorsed by Tea Party leaders.
Lowden's poll number began to plummet after a series of campaign blunders, including her now-infamous explanation of the merits of the old model of health care in which patients would barter with doctors, perhaps exchanging a chicken for their care. The comment earned her ridicule on the late-night talk show circuit but Lowden defended the idea in subsequent interviews. Lowden, a casino executive, former state senator and former chairman of the Nevada Republican Party, also stands accused of accepting use of a luxury campaign bus, potentially in violation of campaign finance laws, and she has recently begun snapping at television and radio interviewers.
"I don't remember a candidate in recent times in Nevada imploding the way Sue Lowden has been imploding," said College of Southern Nevada history professor Michael Green.
A third Republican candidate, former University of Las Vegas basketball star Danny Tarkanian, is running in third place in the polls. While Tarkanian is not expected to win, he could draw enough voters away from Lowden to give Angle the victory.
"The real question is, can Sue Lowden hold on despite all the wounds, most of them self- inflicted," said Nevada political guru Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun.
Political strategists say it is difficult to predict which candidate would be more difficult for Reid to beat, but polls suggest he would fare better against Angle, who hails from the less populated northern part of the state and has been labeled by Reid as an extreme conservative.
A Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review Journal shows Reid leading Angle 42 percent to 39 percent while he trails Lowden by three points and Tarkanian by one point.
Reid's prospects, meanwhile, have been improving in recent weeks. Less than a month ago, he trailed Lowden by 13 points, Angle by 8 points and Tarkanian by 10 points.