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Senate Majority Leader Reid beats back Nevada challenge by tea party's Angle

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 9:19 AM

LAS VEGAS - Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid of Nevada beat back a scrappy challenge from tea party favorite Sharron Angle, offering Democrats a rare and high-profile victory on an otherwise difficult night for Democrats across the nation.

Reid said Wednesday morning that the Senate's shrunken Democratic majority will have to find a way to collaborate with GOP lawmakers, both in the Senate and in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

"History dictates that we have to work together. Gridlock will not do the trick," Reid told MSNBC in an early-morning interview. "We need to set aside our speeches and start rolling up our sleeves and have a little sweat on our brow."

The Associated Press and several news networks called the race for Reid shortly after 9:30 p.m. local time Tuesday. Reid, 70, the son of a miner from tiny Searchlight, Nev., ended up with 50 percent of the vote statewide, compared to 45 percent for Angle.

"Today Nevada chose hope over fear," Reid told a cheering crowd in a packed ballroom at Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. "Nevada chose to move forward not backwards. Nevada made this choice because we know it's not about us versus them. It's about every Nevadan, all of us in this together."

That enthusiasm belied the conditions in which Reid scratched his way to victory, in a state where he remains deeply unpopular and where the economic conditions that led to Republican wins across the country are even more dire.

Reid was already known as a gaffe-prone, awkward public figure before Nevada earned the dubious distinction of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation. He watched his approval ratings plummet this year because of those grim statistics, as well as his association with President Obama's agenda: the health-care overhaul, the stimulus bill and financial regulatory reform.

Nonetheless, Reid and his staff executed a masterful campaign, going back to the spring, when he helped Angle win the Republican primary by going after the person he viewed as his more formidable potential opponent: casino executive Sue Lowden. The hope in the Reid camp was that Angle's outside-the-mainstream conservativism would enable him to defeat her easily in the general election. Among her well-documented declarations: support for ending Medicare and Social Security, abolishing the Energy and Education departments, and vastly reducing the size of government.

Reid hammered Angle on those positions in television ads that ran for months. He highlighted a list of scores of prominent Republicans, including the mayor of Reno, the chairman of MGM Resorts and the first lady of Nevada, who endorsed Reid over Angle because of her extreme views.

"Republicans around this state are supporting me," Reid told a group of reporters Tuesday morning during a stop to cheer on volunteers at his campaign office in Summerlin, west of the Las Vegas strip. "They're not doing it because they are suddenly becoming Democrats. They do not want a Republican Party with her brand on it."

Angle attracted support across the nation from tea party activists, but she rarely directly challenged Reid's portrait of her, generally avoiding media appearances and ducking news outlets for much of the campaign.

The Nevada Senate race will be broadly interpreted as a repudiation of Angle's embrace of the tea party movement's anti-government fervor, but it could just as well reflect a calculated choice of the lesser of two evils.

Nevada's economy is so stalled that there was little appeal for many voters in either the man in power or the woman who resolutely opposed using government programs to help turn things around. Nevada also has the nation's highest mortgage default rate and highest credit card default rate. Those dreary indicators have given Nevada voters reason to feel uneasy with the status quo.

Cathy Durrill, 47, a homemaker and native of Las Vegas, called Reid "the lesser of two evils" before walking into John W. Bonner Elementary School in Summerlin to cast her vote for the Democrat. Durrill said she understands why so many voters were compelled to vote against Reid, because most Nevadans are confronted in deeply personal ways every day with the state's economic woes.

Durrill's husband sells cars, and he has seen sales drop from 250 a month to 150. Her mother lives next to a home that has been vacant for two years. Her investment property, in a subdivision not far from the home where she lives with her husband and 12-year-old twins, has a mortgage that's underwater.

"I'm going to stick with Reid," Durrill said almost sheepishly as she headed into the school. "People blame him for what happened with the economy. But you know, we're a construction-based town. It's not his fault what happened when the construction went away. It's not his fault what the banks did, giving loans they never should have given."

Still, antipathy toward Reid was easy to find among voters.

"I don't want Harry Reid anywhere near us ever again!" Deborah Graham, 56, a real estate broker, said, adding that her livelihood has suffered a lot during the recession.

"He has destroyed our business. He has destroyed our lives. He's made too many side-room deals with banks and other legislators," she said. "He's supported every bank amendment that ever came down the pike. He always supports the big guys, and the little guys are left swimming."

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