After having covered some less media-saturated races, I am able to tackle one of the big-name races, perhaps the most controversial race of the season. This is the race in Nevada between Harry Reid, the incumbent senator, and Sharon Angle, a member of the state legislature.
Unlike many races, which come down to a matter of demographics, this race was very much about personalities (however distorted) and about issues (also heavily distorted). Harry Reid is the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, which means that his name and face get stamped over the Democratic party's programs and decisions. This causes some problems at home, since he represents a state whose politics are not particularly liberal. Nevada, like many Western States, has a very clear urban/rural divide when it comes to politics, but Las Vegas is not a liberal bastion the way Portland, Oregon or Denver, Colorado would be. Thus, Reid had a very narrow base to balance on. Since 2010 was widely believed to be a wave election, Reid seemed very vulnerable, since he was associated with the policies of Barack Obama.
The seat was seen to be a relatively easy pick-up for the Republican Party. After the primary election in June, however, the results became a little less likely. The primary picked Sharron Angle, a conservative legislator, over the "establishment" Republican candidate. After this point, to put it bluntly, the race quickly became a race to the bottom, where the candidates tried to run against their opponent's records while ignoring their own. Reid's mission was to paint Sharron Angle as an extremist who was against social security and other government programs that have broad support. Sharron Angle's mission was to paint Reid as a member of the liberal Washington establishment. Throughout the campaign, Angle's seemed to be ahead, with most polls amongst Likely Voters finding her several points ahead. In such a polarizing election, there were not a lot of undecided voters, so it seemed fairly certain that Angle would indeed win.
On election night, however, Harry Reid won, by a margin of 50.2% against 44.6%. Throughout the race, I held a belief that Reid could pull off an upset, but I imagined it would be by fractions of a percentage
point. But instead, Reid managed to win by several percentage points.
However, I would say that on both sides, the election could be considered a defeat. For a sitting United States senator, especially a majority leader to face a close election means that his party has real popularity issues. He had one of the barest majorities possible. And of the people that voted for him, probably many were less-than-enthusiastic about doing so. On the Republican side, the election was a defeat because they didn't win. Politicians are at great risk of eating their own dogfood, and I believe the Republican Party has a much greater tendency to do so. Sharron Angle, days before the election, spoke of Shock and Awe, and I believe that she honestly thought that the entire country had a gigantic silent majority of conservative voters that were just waiting for candidates conservative enough for them to support. Instead, in a midterm election where the ruling power was unpopular, Sharron Angle was only able to garner 44.6 percent of the vote in a fairly conservative state, many of whom were also probably not whole-hearted supporters of her.
As I have said elsewhere, the American "party" system is actually closer to a coalition system. Just as the "liberal Democrats" can't maintain their coalition without the "suburban Democrats", the "conservative Republicans" can't gather the support to get elected without the support of the "suburban Republicans". The Tea Party will have to accept the fact that they are not the product of unanimous public acclaim, but are instead one faction, that must gain the support of other factions, in order to win elections, and thus to rule.