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Quick shots: 2010 version of "It's the economy, stupid"

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala: Carville is right that voters are unhappy with Dems and with GOP
  • He says Democrats can win by painting GOP as captive to special interests
  • Ed Rollins: In the only debate of the race, Sharron Angle bested Harry Reid
  • He says Angle depicted Reid as a millionaire who repeatedly votes for tax hikes

Editor's note: There are 18 days to go before voters cast ballots in the hotly contested midterm elections. In this special feature, CNN's political contributors share their quick thoughts on what's making news.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

Ed Rollins is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University, a principal with the Dilenschneider Group and a former White House political director and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Begala: How Democrats can win

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My buddy James Carville, as usual, has boiled this election down to one phrase. The man who gained fame in 1992 when he wrote on a whiteboard in Little Rock the phrase "IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID" has done it again.

In 2010, he says, "Voters want to send a message to Washington. They just don't want to send a Republican to Washington." Voters who are fed up with business as usual in Washington are hesitant to turn power over to the GOP, which they fear will be controlled by big corporate special interests. The signs are real:

Democrats can win if they return to their populist, middle-class roots. When the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner tested a candidate "who will fight big corporate special deals and work for the middle class and American jobs" against one who "will rein in government spending and deficits and stop higher taxes," the populist beat the Tea Partier by 12 percent.

The same survey shows that while Democrats still suffer a significant enthusiasm gap, independents are warming up. Dems still lose independents by 10 points, which is bad but is a vast improvement on the 20-point gap we saw over the summer.

While male voters have lined up with the Republicans, women are still in play. Women are especially opposed to proposals, advocated by Republican leaders like top GOP Budget Committee member Paul Ryan and supported broadly by GOP challengers, to privatize a substantial part of Social Security, effectively putting Wall Street in charge, and making Medicare a voucher program, effectively putting insurance companies in charge. Look for Democrats to hammer the GOP on these issues in the closing weeks.

Rollins: Why Reid lost the debate

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Las Vegas, the home of big heavyweight fights and legalized gambling, Thursday night hosted the one and only debate between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the ultimate Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle.

It was not a heavyweight debate, but in a way, it was a gamble for Reid -- and I think he lost big time. He is in a neck and neck race with Angle, and he put her on a stage as an equal, and she exceeded expectations. The perception of Reid as a backroom trader was reinforced by his performance.

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Despite being battered by millions of dollars in negative advertising by the Reid team, Angle will be the winner in the most symbolic election of this cycle. And she took a giant step forward in the debate. As the publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sherman Frederick, wrote:

"Angle mopped the floor with Reid.

"She hit hard on a variety of topics; showed she had the fire to be a U.S. Senator; demonstrated a command of the issues; and, of course, stayed gaffe free.

"Reid meanwhile looked tired. Sounded entitled. He mixed up the Department of Education with the Department of Energy. Couldn't find his notes for the close and generally fell back on talking points on far too many questions."

She also had the sound bite of the night: "Man up, Harry Reid." She drew serious blood when she challenged him on how, when he was elected 24 years ago, he was among the poorest members, and now he is among the Senate's millionaires. She pointed out that Reid lives in the Ritz-Carlton in Washington and made millions while voting to raise taxes more than 300 times.

In a state with the highest unemployment rate and foreclosures through the roof, people need to know how Harry made his millions. Calling Angle's statement a low blow and saying he was a successful lawyer and made good investments was a weak answer. He may join the defeated leaders club along with former Speaker Tom Foley and Reid's predecessor, former Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

The mighty can fall hard when the electorate's unhappy! And Harry Reid's defeat will be the frosting on the cake in what looks like a major Republican year.

The opinions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of the authors.