In 2004, South Dakota Democrat Tom Daschle became the first party leader since 1952 to lose his seat in the Senate, which he did when he lost to John Thune.
Can GOP candidate and Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, 61, do the same to Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid?
The race is now a statistical dead heat, too close to call. It will all come down to the rural counties of Nevada dotted with painful foreclosure and For Sale signs, versus the glittering lights dotting Las Vegas. It’s in a key rural county that Angle supporters fear she has a weak spot, as state Republicans continue to deliver endorsements for Reid. And one key rural county in particular.
Angle has captured the anti-Washington mood in the state, and has given the Reid campaign plenty to worry about. Many in the state are tired of the four-term senator, for supporting stimulus which they say has done nothing to stopping Nevada from becoming the unemployment/bankruptcy/foreclosure capital of the country. They also don’t like his support of divisive health-care reform, which they fear will crush business growth in the state.
"Nevada just cannot afford Harry Reid," Angle said, speaking on a conservative radio talk show. "We need to take back our economy by repealing the extremist policies that have crushed our economy."
If elected, Angle said she would vote to repeal national health-care reform and "bring back good old capitalism."
But Angle has weak spots, too; specifically, having undefined policy ideas as to how exactly she will deliver jobs and economic growth to the state, besides being generally anti-tax and anti-regulation.
Unseating Reid, 70, as majority leader means Nevada would lose a powerful leader with more clout in D.C. than Angle would have as a junior senator and back-bencher. Reid is not only applauded for squaring down Sen. John McCain who wants to use Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dumping ground, but he is also credited with bringing millions of dollars to the state, creating jobs and also bringing Nevada national prominence.
Which is why many prominent Republicans say they back Reid, including Greg Ferraro, an advisor to Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval; Bob Cashell, the Republican mayor of Reno, home to Angle’s campaign, who had previously supported Sue Lowden in the Republican primary; and powerful Republican state senator Bill Raggio. The mayor of Las Vegas, an Independent and former Democrat, Oscar B. Goodman, also endorses Reid.
The Reno Gazette Journal, the Las Vegas Sun, and the Elko Free Press endorse Reid. Gubernatorial candidate Sandoval has gone so far as to hold its election night party at the Red Rock Resort, 20 miles away from the Venetian where Angle is holding her campaign party.
If Reid wins, Sandoval will need all the help he can get from D.C., given Nevada’s state budget woes as it faces a $3 billion budget deficit. Already, the state’s top political columnist Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun is predicting Reid by a squeaker.
In recent days, Angle has turned down the volume, if not the content, of her campaign. A TV reporter confronted her last week, and Angle declined to discuss national issues, saying she would answer “when” she was elected senator, raising questions locally as to whether voters deserve to know her views before casting a ballot
What’s key are the 380,000 residents who have already voted in early balloting. If the early numbers pop up heavily for Reid, if he is up double digits in Clark County, home to Las Vegas, it may be difficult for Angle to pull it out, as she would have to win all of the rural counties, says Elizabeth Crum, the state’s most popular political blogger.
With Election Day upon us, more than 380,000 Nevada voters have already gone to the polls -- about 60% to 65% of the Secretary of State's projected turnout of about 700,000. Early tabulations from the state secretary show the Republicans are turning out for early voting in a greater proportion than their registration numbers; Republicans make up 36.7% of registered voters here in Nevada.
The last Mason-Dixon poll, which gave Angle a statistically insignificant four percentage point lead, gives Reid 84% of the Democrats and Angle 85% of the Republicans. But Angle led among the swing-vote independents 55%-38%, a double-digit lead that is a tough challenge for Reid.
Another swing vote is the Hispanic block. It is too early to call how Hispanics are breaking. Hispanics are a fast-growing population that now accounts for 12% of the Nevada electorate.
To win, Reid must continue to deliver a large number of Democrats to the polls and hold his own among swing independents, who were leaning Angle's way by double digits, according to surveys. Angle's camp believes it can win if she holds her GOP base and finishes strong with independents.
After 28 years in Washington, Reid is one of the most unpopular politicians in Nevada history with more than half of voters having an unfavorable opinion about him. It will all come down to the rural counties, especially Washoe County, home to Reno, home to the Burning Man festival, and home to an increasing number of potentially Democratic-leaning expatriates from California’s San Jose and San Diego.
Although Republicans still hold the overall turnout lead relative to registration in Clark and Washoe counties combined, that edge is just under 4%.
Ralston recently explained why rural Washoe County could be the key in the Senate race: “If Reid wins Washoe County, he could blunt large losses in rural Nevada, which will make up 15% to 20% of the overall tally. Election Day will be pivotal in Washoe, which usually turns out greater than Clark – the northerners lag behind in early voting but turn out in greater percentage numbers on Election Day.
"It’s harder to tell this year because the early voting totals are so high, but Washoe turnout Tuesday is going to be pivotal.”
Which is why Angle spent lots of time yesterday in Washoe County, eating lunch at a senior citizens center and talking to voters by phone in a final push for support. She held a telephone town hall with McCain, who could help her hold moderate Republicans, who might be wary of her staunch conservative views. He's also popular among independents because he, like Angle, has fought the GOP establishment.
It will come down to jobs. Angle, a fiscal and social conservative, has argued for lower taxes and less regulation on business as a way to spur job growth. Reid has used stimulus spending partly to support government jobs but has also backed tax breaks to help small business and clean energy projects, too.
Reid said Monday that if Angle were elected, Nevadans would wake up with a senator who "says it's not her job to create jobs," who would let insurance companies control health care and who "wants to drive us right back into the ditch," a reference to GOP policies he argues led to the recession.
The government creates jobs?
“He still doesn’t get it. Pathetic,” a local resident tells FOX Business.