Democratic Sen. Harry Reid bested Republican upstart Sharron Angle to win the U.S. Senate contest in Nevada, a costly, closely watched brawl that pitted one of President Obama’s top lieutenants against a “tea party” favorite.
Outside groups poured millions of dollars into a race that many political observers saw as a referendum on Obama administration policies, which Reid had guided through the Senate. Angle bashed the policies throughout the campaign as doing little to help bring down Nevada’s stubbornly high unemployment rate.
Reid, 70, the soft-spoken, sometimes-prickly Senate majority leader, suffered from dismal approval ratings and a deep-held resentment of his sway over state affairs.
He drew a feisty, if controversial, challenger in Angle, who nabbed a come-from-behind primary win with the aid of deep-pocketed conservative groups. A former state lawmaker, the petite and affable Angle often responded to tough questioning with little more than a broad smile.
The pair clashed over the role of Washington on almost every issue, with Angle reflecting libertarian-leaning Nevada’s longstanding suspicion of federal power. Reid championed the economic stimulus package and the healthcare law, while Angle took the position of free-market absolutist. She said it was outside the government’s power to create jobs or to impose insurance mandates, though, as a social conservative, she also favored outlawing abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
Although Reid’s campaign was hamstrung by the economic crash that littered Nevada with abandoned homes and storefronts, it pursued an aggressive dual strategy: reminding voters that “no one can do more” for the ailing state than the majority leader, and making much of the race about his rival. Political luminaries, including Obama and former President Bill Clinton, repeatedly stumped for him.
Angle, 61, emerged from the primary nearly broke and was initially knocked around by Reid ads painting her as an extremist. His camp pointed out that she’d advocated phasing out Social Security, called the unemployed “spoiled” and wondered whether “2nd Amendment remedies” might be in order should Congress not change hands. There was enough fodder for Reid’s team to release a well-viewed Web video called “Sharron Angle’s Crazy Juice.”
In response, Angle tamed her rhetoric and tightly scripted her events. In the campaign’s home stretch, Democrats taunted her de facto media blackout with a staffer dressed as a chicken.
But Angle proved a prodigious fundraiser and something of a brawler, using the $14 million she raked in during a three-month period to blanket the airwaves with commercials.
She attacked Reid as soft on illegal immigrants, blamed him for Nevada’s economic doldrums and insinuated he’d enriched himself during his four terms in the Senate, which he called a “low blow.” The son of an impoverished hark-rock miner in Searchlight, Nev., Reid had grown wealthy by the time he took office. But struggling Nevadans likely didn’t cotton to his Ritz-Carlton condominium in Washington, which Angle featured prominently in ads.
In the campaign’s final slog, Reid helmed public events almost daily, hustling for votes from union members, women, African Americans and Latinos, many of whom were offended by Angle’s immigration ads, which featured sinister-looking, bronze-skinned men.
Most of Angle’s appearances were closed to reporters -- her campaign was even accused of using a decoy to dodge them -- as she tried to cling to what some polls showed was a slender lead.