Nevada Senate race: Harry Reid wins in election night's biggest Houdini act

The Nevada Senate race was tight and angry up to Election Day, with some polls showing tea party favorite Sharron Angle ahead. But Senate majority leader Harry Reid held on.

Jae C. Hong/AP
Sen. Harry Reid speaks after defeating Sharron Angle to win re-election in the Nevada Senate race Tuesday.

In one of the toughest, most closely-watched, and perhaps weirdest US Senate races, majority leader Harry Reid has defeated GOP challenger and tea party favorite Sharron Angle.

As with California’s US Senate race, where Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer defeated Carly Fiorina, Nevada’s election bucked Tuesday night’s GOP wave and the tea party-fueled trend against longtime politicians.

Neither Ms. Angle nor Senator Reid was a particularly attractive candidate or an especially articulate speaker, and each had personal quirks that seemed to be magnified in their single live debate. Campaign mud was slung from both quarters.

Reid painted Angle as an “extremist” and “crazy” for her statements about phasing out Social Security and her suggestion that continued Democratic control of Congress might have to be violently addressed by “Second Amendment remedies” – referring to the amendment that addresses the right to bear arms.

Angle ads featuring dark-skinned men creeping along a chain link fence portrayed Reid as “The Best Friend an Illegal Alien Ever Had.” This won her few friends among Latino voters, an important part of Nevada’s voting population.

Out-of-state money flowed to both candidates, including support for Angle from the California-based Tea Party Express.

But Reid had a big advantage in the get-out-the-vote ground game with help from labor unions, including the Service Employees International Union (which represents many casino workers) and AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees representing public employee and health care workers.

It was an uphill fight for Reid, especially since Nevada suffers from the nation's worst unemployment, home foreclosure, and bankruptcy rates.

In the end, the former boxer whose father had been a hardrock miner in Searchlight, Nev., was able to hang onto his Senate seat for a fifth term in spite of a hard challenge from a newcomer to the national political stage who seemed to represent Americans' dissatisfaction with politics as usual.

In a night of bad news for the White House, it was also a bright spot for President Obama who returned the favor for Reid’s support on controversial measures like health-care reform by actively campaigning on Reid’s behalf.

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