Tea party star Sharron Angle was unable to ride a huge Republican wave and topple US Sen. Harry Reid, who won a fifth term and avoid the indignity of becoming the first Senate majority leader to lose re-election in 58 years.
The dour, soft-spoken Reid was the Republicans' top target in the nation in Tuesday's election, and for months he appeared headed for defeat as Nevada suffered with the worst unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy rates in the U.S. But he ended up defeating Angle by six percentage points.
"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.
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 government programs for the elderly would be on the chopping block.
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.
In a state known for its centrist politics, Angle tested the limits of anti-Washington sentiment.
In addition to privatizing Social Security and Medicare, which provide the elderly with pensions and health care coverage, she wanted to slash federal spending and break up the Education Department. She opposes abortion in all cases.
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."
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 and he acknowledged he was in trouble. But he had been there before, re-elected by just 428 votes in 1998.
This year's race pitted Reid, never widely popular at home, against the unpolished, gaffe-prone Angle, whose sometimes unconventional ideas included using an inmate drug-rehabilitation program devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Reid's platform was power.
The 71-year-old one-time boxer touted his ability to bring federal money to his home state ó no one could do more, he argued ó 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.
But Angle saw Reid as part of the problem - a Democratic-led Congress broadening government's reach into places it shouldn't go, while accelerating spending and debt. She called Reid "the poster child of what's gone wrong in America."
The 61-year-old grandmother relied on backing from the tea party movement to pull off a come-from-behind victory over moderate Sue Lowden in the Republican primary.
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.