On a day of Republican revival in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was the spoiler.
Nevada’s embattled senator capped a stunning political comeback Tuesday, soundly defeating tea party champion Sharron Angle and helping keep the Senate in Democratic control.
Marked as one of the most vulnerable incumbents, the unpopular Reid paired a relentless TV ad campaign with a formidable turnout machine to win a fifth term, defeating Angle by 6 points. He avoided the indignity of becoming the first Senate majority leader to lose re-election in 58 years.
“I’ve run in some tough elections no one thought I could win,” Reid told cheering supporters at a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. “We are proof that a test is tough only if you’re not tough.”
He echoed President Barack Obama, who visited the state several times on Reid’s behalf. “Nevada chose to move forward, not backwards,” Reid said.
On Wednesday morning, Reid was even more confident.
“I’ve had some tight races, but this wasn’t one of them,” Reid said on CBS’ “The Early Show.”
The last Senate majority leader to lose a re-election bid was Arizona’s Ernest W. McFarland in 1952.
In the unvarnished, gaffe-prone Angle, Reid thought he had a pushover. She proved anything but. In a concession speech, she hinted her political ambitions might not be over.
“We didn’t just inspire Republicans, we inspired Democrats and independents as well,” Angle said. “They may call us the tea party, but we know we’re Main Street America.”
A key battleground was Nevada’s mountainous northwest corner, Washoe County, where statewide races are often won or lost. Voter registration there is evenly divided, though it leans Republican. Reid carried the county, embarrassing Angle on her home turf. He also rolled up a large margin in the Democrat-rich Las Vegas region.
His victory was powered by overwhelming support from minority voters, according to an Associated Press analysis of preliminary exit poll results. He bested Angle among all nonwhite voters surveyed, including two-thirds of Hispanics, eight in 10 blacks and three-quarters of Asians.
The dour, soft-spoken Reid appeared headed for defeat for months as Nevada suffered with the nation’s worst unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates. In April, Reid stood in front of crowd of hundreds at the University of Nevada, Reno and pleaded: “I need your help.”
Many blame Reid for the state’s troubles. Stone mason Bill Niver, 57, of Las Vegas, who has been out of work for about five years, called Reid “a tired old man.”
In the end, Reid proved a firewall against resurgent Republicans, telling voters that no one could match his clout on Capitol Hill and warning that Angle would usher in an era in which Social Security and Medicare would be on the chopping block.
Reid’s win is “a rejection of the right-wing radical agenda and a reaffirmation that this … state has rejected the return to Bush economics,” said Democrat Dan Kruger, 61, a small business owner in Las Vegas.
In a state known for its centrist politics, Angle tested the limits of anti-Washington sentiment.
In addition to privatizing Social Security and Medicare, she wanted to slash federal spending and break up the Education Department. She opposes abortion in all cases, and accused Reid and Democrats in Washington of trying to “make government our God” by expanding entitlement programs.
She predicted “a tsunami of conservatism is coming in waves across our country,” but it stopped in her own race. An Angle win would have made her Nevada’s first woman senator.
Nevada Democrats have a 60,000-vote registration edge, and Reid and his union allies mounted a huge get-out-the-vote operation in the campaign’s closing days.
Reid’s margin was a surprise in a race where a succession of polls showed a dead heat. But he had been there before, re-elected by 428 votes in 1998.
Reid’s platform was power.
The 71-year-old one-time boxer touted his ability to bring federal money to his home state — no one could do more, he argued — and played up his role salvaging the Las Vegas Strip’s massive CityCenter development, in which he pressured bankers to keep money flowing, and his hand in killing the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump. He had the backing of the powerful casino industry, and its union members.
Spending in the race, from the candidates and outside groups, will exceed $50 million, mostly for a torrent of negative TV ads that ran nearly nonstop in the campaign’s closing days.
Reid’s first negative ad came just days after Angle’s June primary win, depicting her as a heartless extremist.
Reid, meanwhile, struggled for months to hold voters’ confidence in a state battered by the economy. On his watch, tourism dropped, jobs vanished and homes and condos stood unsold around the state.
The face of Washington authority, Reid sidled close to President Barack Obama, even as the Democratic president’s popularity slipped.
At one point, polls showed Reid losing to any of several potential Republican candidates. He defended bailouts and stimulus spending, while unemployment and foreclosures climbed.
The race was a clash of personalities as well as ideas.
Angle, whose father was a potato farmer, could be folksy at times, and also brash. She told Reid to “man up” in their only televised debate, in which Reid appeared listless and uncomfortable. Reid, a miner’s son who grew up on the fringes of poverty, is famously awkward in public and, like Angle, is known to stumble over his words.
Reid promised Nevada, too, would rebound.
“I know a lot of Nevadans feel like they’ve been counted out,” Reid said. “Nevada is going to recover.”
Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno contributed to this report.
Source: The Associated Press.