In most election years, the fact that Harry Reid beat a far right political naif like Sharron Angle wouldn’t be big news. But this year its among the biggest and happiest for Democrats all night.
With both MSNBC and Fox calling the race in Reid’s favor by shortly after 12:30 a.m. ET, Reid was beating Angle 51 percent to 44 percent with less than half the precincts reporting and the results trending in his favor.
Reid was not supposed to win this election. His approval ratings are terrible in Nevada, where unemployment and foreclosure rates are among the highest in the country. And as the face of the Senate Democrats, his constituents rightly hold him accountable for unpopular Democratic policies that have been unable to prevent economic depression in his state.
But faced with long odds, Reid made a number of savvy political moves, which, together, allowed him to eke out a victory. Most significantly, he and his first-rate campaign staff inserted themselves into the Republican primary, and picked their own opponent. Polls showed him down broadly, but way down against early hopeful Sue Lowden. His well targeted oppo campaign helped sink Lowden’s candidacy, allowing the tea party-backed Angle to secure the nomination.
Angle had perhaps the most extreme views of any of the tea party backed Senate candidates this cycle. In her career as a state legislator from a conservative district, Angle amassed a mind-boggling record of supporting Social Security privatization, Department of Education abolition, water defluoridation, and other positions far out of the mainstream.
Her rough edges made it difficult for her to run away from that record. It also made it difficult for her to run away from her controversial statements, including her call for “Second Amendment” remedies to Democratic rule, her unwillingness to answer questions until “I’m the Senator,” and her announcement to a crowd full of Latino teens that “some of you look a little more Asian to me.”
Her enormous problems helped Reid secure not just his typical constituencies, but typically Republican interests, and leading GOP figures across the state.
All of that was probably necessary for Reid to sneak past Angle. On a night when tea party backed candidates are doing pretty well despite their extreme positions, the Angle candidacy will stand as the defining example of the GOP base succumbing to hubris, and choosing a candidate who was too radical for even the angriest and worst-off voters in the country.