Fresh from a tough reelection battle, Sen. Harry Reid on Wednesday offered an olive branch and a warning as Democrats prepared to deal with the new era of divided government in Washington.
In a prepared statement issued in the early-morning hours, Reid said he was looking forward to working with the new Senate, where Republicans would have at least six more members and the GOP caucus a decidedly more conservative tilt because of the effect of lawmakers backed by the “tea party” movement.
“I congratulate them for earning the confidence of their constituents and look forward to working with these new members on both sides of the aisle to find shared solutions to our shared problems,” Reid said.
But he also warned that Republican successes meant that the GOP would have a new role in helping govern the nation.
“The time for politics is now over,” Reid said, in a nod to the last two years of sharply partisan fighting in his chamber, where the threat of filibuster was omnipresent.
“Now that Republicans have more members in both houses of Congress, they must take their responsibility to present bipartisan solutions more seriously. Simply saying ‘no’ will do nothing to create more jobs, support our middle class and strengthen our economy,” Reid said.
Reid will join other top Senate Democrats, including Dick Durbin of Illinois and New York’s Charles Schumer, at a briefing Wednesday.
Reid’s comments came after he defeated tea-party heroine Sharron Angle in a costly, closely watched brawl.
Several hundred Democrats who had gathered anxiously at Vegas’ Aria hotel-casino roared when the Senate majority leader clinched victory.
“Harry! Harry!” they chanted, some of them in near disbelief.
Reid and Angle had run neck and neck during months of high-dollar name-calling. Many Democrats were bracing for a lengthy election night -- or even defeat or a recount.
“They’ve doubted him several times before,” said Darvez Scroggins, 42, one of the leaders of Reid’s formidable canvassing operation. “We proved that you don’t doubt Harry Reid.”
Elsewhere on the Las Vegas Strip, Angle supporters had been clinging to the possibility that she could still squeak out a victory.
“I’m praying that she wins,” said Steven D’Arezzo, 39, a draftsman who has been out of work for two years. “My mom lost her job too. Harry Reid will do nothing to make things better here.”
When Fox News called the election for Reid, D’Arezzo screamed at the giant screen that carried the news.
“What? What?” D’Arezzo yelled. “No!”
Democrats have spent years and millions of dollars building a top-notch “ground game,” or get-out-the-vote effort, which they hoped would counterbalance revved-up tea-party supporters.
Earlier Tuesday, former amateur boxer Reid had compared the grueling contest with matches of his youth that he had won with strategy, if not strength.
“Most of my fights didn’t end in a knockout, so I had to wait for a decision,” Reid told volunteers working a phone bank here Tuesday. “I always felt good about my fights because I always prepared really hard. Probably worked harder than anyone else. And that’s what this campaign is all about.”
Outside groups have poured millions of dollars into the Nevada race, which many political observers saw as a referendum on Obama’s policies that Reid had guided through the Senate. Angle repeatedly bashed the legislative efforts as doing little to help bring down Nevada’s 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’d nabbed a come-from-behind primary win with the aid of deep-pocketed conservative groups. The petite and affable Angle, a former state lawmaker, 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 long-standing suspicion of federal power.
Reid championed the economic stimulus and 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 Reid, and making much of the race about his rival.
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 had advocated phasing out Social Security, called the unemployed “spoiled” and wondered whether “2nd Amendment remedies” might be in order should Congress not change hands.
In a Reid campaign office, a comic strip riffing on “Peanuts,” with Reid as Charlie Brown and Angle as Lucy, summed up what Democrats considered the race’s “clear choice.”
“Harry Reid, stop being lazy like the unemployed and try to kick this football,” Angle says.
Unlike Charlie Brown, Reid nails the kick. “Good grief, you’re a terrible candidate,” he says.
Although polls had shown Angle with a slight lead heading into election day, she still could not topple a candidate who, with a history of razor-thin races, had years ago earned the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Landslide Harry.”
Staff writer Michael Muskal contributed from Los Angeles.