If there was to be a crumb of comfort for the Democrats in this bruising election night, then it could probably be found at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where Sharron Angle, darling of the Tea-Party movement and one of Sarah Palin’s most prominent “Mamma Grizzlies” saw her bid for the US Senate roundly rejected by the voters of Nevada.
A bruising race that was expected to go to the wire instead ended in abject failure just a couple of hours after polls closed, when it emerged that the ultra-conservative Republican was running at least five points behind her rival Harry Reid, who as majority leader in America’s upper house is one of the most powerful figures in the Democratic Party.
The margin of victory confounded expectations, and suggests that as many people were put off by Angle’s extreme anti-government message as were attracted by it. Since several other supposed Tea-Party champions also stumbled last night, a question mark will now surely hang over the libertarian movement’s ability to translate its high profile into electoral success.
For Senator Reid, a veteran political operator who was between two and four percent behind in the polls on the eve of election day, the result meanwhile marked the completion of a remarkable Houdini act. Somehow, he confounded expectations to get his vote out when it really mattered.
“Today Nevada chose hope over fear. Nevada chose to move forward, not backward," Reid said in his brief victory speech. Alluding to his career as an amateur boxer, he added that “the fight is far from over” and compared the night’s results to a bell signalling: “the start of the next round.”
At the Venetian Hotel, the Tea-Party faithful were trying to get their heads round how Angle managed to lose a race that should on paper have been there for the taking. Nevada currently boasts unemployment levels of almost fifteen percent and the nation’s highest home foreclosure rates, while Reid’s disapproval ratings were well over fifty percent.
In the end, though, voters appear to have decided that it was better the Devil they know. And they were hardly seduced by Angle’s eccentric campaign, which was derailed by endless gaffes: in recent weeks, she called the unemployed “spoiled” and in a misguided attempt to discuss multiculturalism told a class of Latino schoolchildren they “looked more Asian.”
Her policy positions also appear to have alienated mainstream voters, including many Republicans. An extreme free-marketeer, she is also a social conservative who favours outlawing abortion in all circumstances, including incest and rape, withdrawing America from the UN, and abolishing Social Security.
Hispanic voters, who make up roughly 12 percent of Nevada’s electoral roll, were hugely upset by her adverts on immigration, which portrayed them as criminals. In the end, roughly ninety percent of them backed Reid, making the difference between success and failure.
In her concession speech, Angle, who had banned media from most of her previous events and never chose to publicly defend her most controversial policy positions in an open press conference, said “we know how to lose,” claimed that her campaign energised “Main St. America” and said: “We inspired not only Nevadans but a country.”
That was cold comfort to the two or three hundred guests at Angle’s “victory” celebration, who had gathered in expectation of a result which would change the face of US politics and derail the career of one of the Democratic Party’s biggest beasts. A speaker had even, hubristically, begun the evening by welcoming guests to “Harry Reid’s retirement celebration.”
As the scale of Angle’s defeat became clear, the mood in the room turned bittersweet. “This is a good night for Republicans, but I’d be lying if I told you I was anything but devastated at what’s happened here,” said a tearful Bob Gawlick, 62, who was clutching a sign bearing a picture of Harry Reid with a red line across it.
“I believe this result may have been fixed. But if it does turn out that Harry Reid won fair and square then I’d say that he did it by manipulating ethnic minorities. It might be offensive to say these sorts of things, but facts are facts.”
Ronnie Page, a Tea-party activist who had travelled from Texas with his wife, Paula, to spend a week campaigning for Angle, said she had suffered from the “extremist” label. “People branded her an extremist. Well I find her pretty mainstream. Does not spending more than you take in taxes make you extremist? Does securing our borders make you an extremist? It’s pretty hard for me to take.”
When the euphoria of their wider performance has died down, the Republican Party may wonder if the plight of Angle leaves serious questions to be asked about the viability of more unconventional Tea-Party candidates, particularly those enthusiastically endorsed by Sarah Palin.
Several of the “Mamma Grizzlies” she touted were roundly defeated last night, including Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Linda McMahon in Connecticut, and Carly Fiorina in California. In her home state of Alaska, the Palin-endorsed Joe Miller was trounced by Linda Murkowski, who he beat for the Republican nomination. She triumphed thanks to “write in” voters.
Adding to evidence that centrist Republicans may actually be the night’s big winners was the result in Nevada’s Governor’s race, where exactly the same electorate which rejected Sharron Angle voted a mainstream GOP candidate, Brian Sandoval, into office by a wide margin.Reuse content