Nevada Sen. Harry Reid Fends Off Sharron Angle

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defeats 'tea party' upstart Sharron Angle after a bruising battle, which observers see as a referendum on President Obama's policies.

(Los Angeles Times)

Angle's lawyer alleges that the Reid camp pressured union employees to vote.

Reporting from Las Vegas —Democratic Sen. Harry Reid on Tuesday bested Republican upstart Sharron Angle to win the U.S. Senate contest in Nevada, a costly, closely watched brawl that pitted one of President Obama's top lieutenants against a "tea party" favorite.

Several hundred Democrats who had gathered anxiously at the Aria hotel-casino broke into cheers when the Senate majority leader clinched victory. "Harry! Harry!" they chanted, some of them in near-disbelief.

Reid and Angle had run neck and neck for months, and many Democrats were girding for a lengthy election night, or bracing for a defeat or recount.

"They've doubted him several times before," said Darvez Scroggins, 42, one of the leaders of Reid's formidable canvassing operation. "We proved that you don't doubt Harry Reid."

Elsewhere on the Las Vegas Strip, Angle supporters had been clinging to the possibility that she could still squeak out a victory.

"I'm praying that she wins," said Steven D'Arezzo, 39, a draftsman who has been out of work for two years. "My mom lost her job too. Harry Reid will do nothing to make things better here."

When Fox News called the election for Reid, D'Arezzo screamed at the giant screen that carried the news.

"What? What?" D'Arezzo yelled. "No!"

Earlier Tuesday, former amateur boxer Reid had compared the grueling contest to matches of his youth that he won with strategy, if not strength.

"Most of my fights didn't end in a knockout, so I had to wait for a decision," Reid told volunteers working a phone bank here Tuesday. "I always felt good about my fights because I always prepared really hard. Probably worked harder than anyone else. And that's what this campaign is all about."

Democrats have spent years and millions of dollars building a top-notch "ground game," or get-out-the-vote effort, which they hoped would counterbalance revved-up "tea party" supporters such as Becky Vreeland, who is on the brink of losing her home to foreclosure.

"It was a vote of hope," Vreeland, who sells survivalist food products, said after casting her ballot for Angle. "I don't think people have hope right now."

Outside groups have poured millions of dollars into the Nevada race, which many political observers saw as a referendum on President Obama's policies that Reid had guided through the Senate. Angle repeatedly bashed the legislative efforts as doing little to help bring down Nevada's high unemployment rate.

Because of all the mudslinging, Terry Ramirez cast her ballot assuming that a recount or lawsuits would delay the race's outcome. "I just want it to be over," said the unemployed casino worker after halfheartedly voting for Reid.

Reid, 70, the soft-spoken, sometimes prickly Senate majority leader, suffered from dismal approval ratings and a deep-held resentment of his sway over state affairs.

He drew a feisty, if controversial, challenger in Angle, who'd nabbed a come-from-behind primary win with the aid of deep-pocketed conservative groups. The petite and affable Angle, a former state lawmaker, often responded to tough questioning with little more than a broad smile.

The pair clashed over the role of Washington on almost every issue, with Angle reflecting libertarian-leaning Nevada's long-standing suspicion of federal power.

Reid championed the economic stimulus and healthcare law, while Angle took the position of free-market absolutist. She said it was outside the government's power to create jobs or to impose insurance mandates, though, as a social conservative, she also favored outlawing abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

Although Reid's campaign was hamstrung by the economic crash that littered Nevada with abandoned homes and storefronts, it pursued an aggressive dual strategy: reminding voters that "no one can do more" for the ailing state than Reid, and making much of the race about his rival.

Angle, 61, emerged from the primary nearly broke and was initially knocked around by Reid ads painting her as an extremist. His camp pointed out that she had advocated phasing out Social Security, called the unemployed "spoiled" and wondered whether "2nd Amendment remedies" might be in order should Congress not change hands.

In a Reid campaign office, a comic strip riffing on "Peanuts," with Reid as Charlie Brown and Angle as Lucy, summed up what Democrats considered the race's "clear choice."

"Harry Reid, stop being lazy like the unemployed and try to kick this football," Angle says.

Unlike Charlie Brown, Reid nails the kick. "Good grief, you're a terrible candidate," he says.

In response to Reid, Angle tamed her rhetoric and held tightly scripted events. And she proved a prodigious fundraiser and something of a brawler, using the $14 million she raked in during a three-month period to blanket the airwaves with commercials.

ashley.powers@latimes.com

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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