What started as a no-brainer for the Senate’s most powerful Democrat has turned into a shockingly tight race for Harry Reid in what is now the most closely watched midterm showdown in the country.
It is a race now taking center stage in the basket case that is Nevada, the unemployment-bankruptcy-foreclosure capital of America, epicenter of the country’s economic collapse with a jobless rate that’s the highest in the country, five percentage points higher than the national average.
It is a race pitting the powerful Democratic insider Reid, 70, against the outsider Tea Party populist Sharron Angle, 61, a race that is smashing spending records and literally smashing jaws, with more than $50 million spent by candidates, outside groups and the parties, as brawls have broken out between the two campaigns in the streets, at rallies, even in high schools.
It’s a race that’s become one of the most hostile in the country thanks to a take-no-prisoners candidate from the Tea Party, which itself is enacting its own hostile takeover of the GOP.
And it’s a smashmouthed race that’s deteriorated into the ugliest in the nation, with Reid now calling Angle “a pathological liar,” “a dangerous extremist,” and with ads from Angle charging that the Senate’s most powerful Democrat -- along with his party’s failed policies -- made Nevada the unemployment and foreclosure capital of the U.S., where one in seven are without a job, where home prices have fallen by up to 50% from their peak and where more than half the mortgages are in negative equity.(Even though Angle has not spelled out her policies for fixing these problems, either.)
And it’s a race that could either seat the first female U.S, senator from Nevada or unseat the most powerful lawmaker in state history, a man elected to Congressional office when Ronald Reagan was in his first term in 1982, who now says he is deserving of a fifth term as senator.
What started out as a race initially dismissed by Democrats as a laughable moonshot by Angle has turned into a dead heat.
Not just Vice President Joe Biden, but former President Bill Clinton (three trips), the First Lady Michelle Obama (two trips, including on election day) and President Barack Obama himself (three trips) have parachuted into Nevada to help the entrenched Democrat incumbent ride their ever- shortening coat tails, the liberal incumbent having championed the President’s liberal big government agenda which hasn’t gone down well in libertarian small government Nevada.
To help drive that point home, stumping for the insurgent Angle came Republicans Sen. John McCain, his former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the GOP lion Newt Gingrich, who brought his resonant message that the Democrats are the “party of food stamps versus the party of jobs.”
It’s a high-profile trophy race avidly watched not just by local Nevadans from all corners of the state, but one that’s attracted journalists from Japan, England, France, Germany and the Netherlands, all serving witness to history in the making, one that could see the Democratic titan, the party’s most valuable asset, lose simply because bad economies tend to deliver electoral bloodbaths, just as it did in 1982 when the ruling Republicans lost 26 Congressional seats in Reagan’s first term.
But perhaps most of all, everything that the Tea Party is about is being distilled down in this one race.
An early champion of the Tea Party, a campaigner who helped turn a minority protest movement into a potent force, Angle captured the mood of the Tea Party crowd quickly, that the government cannot and should not address all wrongs. The Tea Party has brought a new face to an idea as old as the Republic itself, that deep in the genetic code of America is the idea that this country of gritty, self-determined entrepreneurs will thrive in a low tax, small government environment.
Angle’s race is the premier national test of whether the Tea Party, with its roots in the deficit-loathing Concord Coalition of the ‘80s and the deficit-hating presidential candidate Ross Perot of the early ‘90s, really does have staying power, whether they really can govern, as Tea Party candidates have popped up in 70 midterm races across the country.
And for Reid, the spectacle of bankers and borrowers receiving bailouts while the virtuous here in Nevada paid the bills and are bailing water is driving an expected high voter turnout here in the state.
But what FOX Business is hearing from locals here in Nevada, that what the race is boiling down to, is this: What have you done for me lately? They are asking Reid why his big government stimulus money and stance on immigration have not lowered Nevada’s record unemployment?
And they are asking Angle how, exactly, her detonation of big government deliver jobs to the beleaguered state?
How will getting rid of the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security and Medicare really provide jobs to the jobless and economic security to retirees in the battered state that is Nevada?
And if you win, they ask, will you learn not just that you must bend a little to give a little, but bend a lot to get a lot in return for your state -- especially if you want to get re-elected, as Reid has done for decades?
Angle has raised a stunning $14 million between July 1 and September, a reported 96% of the donations at $200 or less. That $14 million is similar to Republican senate insurgent Scott Brown who brought in $14.2 million in Massachusetts.
Reid reportedly raised a total of $18 million for the campaign overall, (from April 1 to June 30 Angle brought in a reported $4.75 million.)
The American Crossroads group, spearheaded by Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, helped too, pouring $3 million into the Angle campaign, helping Angle to build a strong ground game that began out of her living room in Reno as they bet she will bring to the GOP a loss for the country’s most powerful man in the Senate.
It’s a race that started for Reid not in Nevada’s June 2010 primary, but on Nov. 3, 2004, when former Senator Tom Daschle was knocked out of the Senate majority leadership post after the South Dakota senator’s historic defeat. In stepped Reid as Senate majority leader, to the chagrin of Conn. Senator Chris Dodd, and pundits say Reid has been preparing for this GOP onslaught ever since.
Reid, 70, grew up poor in tiny Searchlight, Nevada, to a father who was a hard rock miner and a mother who washed laundry. An amateur boxer, Reid worked up the food chain in Nevada to become chairman of Nevada’s gaming commission in the late ‘70s, winning renown for facing down the mob.
Winning a House seat in 1982, Reid later ran for the Senate. He has been the architect of President Obama’s TARP spending and his health reform, a bill Reid nursed to life that imposed onerous demands on business, as well as the stimulus bill. Both bills were laden with so many pro-union freebies that anyone in Congress who bothers to read them will smell the rank smell of pork behind these bills.
The Republicans were the “adults in the room at a reckless liberal blowout on the taxpayers’ dime,” says Eric Cantor, Republican minority whip in the House.
But for Reid, it was a long shot bet that these policies would deliver economic recovery and re-election by now in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Which is why Reid thought he had a sea breeze of a campaign that had him running ahead of Angle as late as early September, thinking that these policies would have saved his skin by now, but instead may cost him dearly.
Earlier this year, Reid consciously targeted and shot down his strongest contender, former state Republican party chairwoman Sue Lowden in favor of what he thought was the weaker Angle, who won her Tea Party backing on tax day April 15.
Reid did so by viciously attacking Lowden as an extremist lightweight with no voter base, who thought bartering for health care with chickens was a viable way to pay for hospital bills.
But the plan to take on Angle backfired, and Reid was knocked off his cozy perch and onto his back heels from the get go with a Tea Party insurgent who has consistently given him serious grief.
As Reid cruised through the cushy suites of Las Vegas, Angle took to the gritty streets in familiar retail politics fashion, going door to door, just as she did when she first won her state assembly seat in 1998.
An inveterate door-to-door precinct walker, the right wing Tea Party populist also did what the liberal Democrat populist Obama did -- she collected millions of dollar online and traveled the country to headline fund raisers.
The race soon became about rural Nevada, suburban Nevada dotted with achingly painful foreclosure and for sale signs, going up against the more cosmopolitan precincts of Las Vegas dotted with electric shimmering lights, Reid’s playground.
Angle went so far as to travel in March right into the heart of Reid country, to his hometown of Searchlight, gunning into town in a black leather outfit on the back of a steel chrome Harley Davidson motorcycle with Bikers for Jesus. Upon dismounting, Angle would soon be found shouting, “It’s time to take our country back and retire Harry Reid!” at a Tea Party rally of an estimated 10,000.
Angle then came to Reid’s backyard in Vegas to a rally where she won loud cheers demanding the repeal of Obamacare, which Reid husbanded through the Senate right up to the President’s pen.
The stark differences in the campaigns became distilled in the moment when President Clinton tried to slam Angle for saying it is not a US senator’s job to create jobs.
Even though Angle was saying that it is the private sector that creates jobs, not government, helping them to do so by cutting taxes and regulations. Clinton also slammed Angle for opposing mandated health insurance coverage, even though Angle voted for mandating insurance coverage for mammograms when a Reno assemblywoman (she opposes mandates now).
All came to a head in the candidates’ one and only debate on Oct. 14, where Reid attacked Angle for extremist policies that pose a danger not just to Nevada but to the country, and where Angle told Reid to ‘man up’ on Social Security reform, as Harried Reid looked unnerved, fuddling through his papers looking for his prepared closing remarks on his podium.
Reid wasn’t ready for Angle who came ready to brawl, having been in more debates and campaigns over the past several election cycles, since she has run for re-election every two years since 1998, the last time Reid had a difficult race.
Since then the right wing populist Angle has shunned media and turned down the volume if not the content in the closing months of the campaign, having been criticized and taken to the woodshed for maladroit statements, things like American cities in Michigan and Texas are being taken over by Muslims and for raising the Second Amendment as a fix to the government’s problems.
Her campaign is also being criticized for airing race-baiting ads, that Latino drug gangs are descending on Nevadans bringing death and destruction, raising concerns in the GOP that Angle may lose the important Latino swing vote in the state, anywhere from 8% of the vote in 2008 to an estimated 12% of the vote now.
A Hispanic population possible gettable because it was angered at Reid and the President for failing to deliver immigration reform, as Reid’s Dream Act to Citizenship was regarded by Hispanics as a haphazard, cynical afterthought in a bid to win their vote, a move his opponent seized up on as political opportunism.
But this is also a campaign that has showed the complacency of both the Democrat and the GOP, a complacency where GOPers were found to be not true blue conservatives, but instead big spending facsimile Republicans who pushed the party off course under George Bush.
Which is why Senator Bob Bennett, who represented Utah for three terms, was sent home for voting for TARP, despite scoring an average 86 on conservative report cards.
The Tea Party’s rise brought a welcome, electrifying high spiritedness that has revivified a GOP left for dead two years ago, the doom and gloom of the glum Republican party left insensate from the Bush years.
Because the Tea Party has shown that many voters in this country have had it with elected officials, who, once they get to DC stay on not to do good, but to do well.
Just as the deficit is a bipartisan creation, the Tea Partiers are also saying they are sick and tired of both Republicans and Democrats alike who linger a little too long, live a little too much off of government, soak in a bit too much the ways of DC.
The Tea Partiers are tired of elected officials who too quickly forget that they came from small town America when they become the establishment too quickly, all anathema to Tea Partiers who live daily not in DC, but in the rural towns and byways of America.
The Tea Party movement sees the moral flabbiness of the DC culture for what it is, sees the need for a strong dose of character-building medicine in the form of fiscal austerity -- but is seemingly so terrified at the choices of enacting such reform that no detailed policy prescriptions are offered.