Nevada didn't matter, not in the 2012 presidential race and not in U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's successful bid to keep the Senate in Democratic hands - his - since he didn't need Rep. Shelley Berkley to move up after all.
Polls didn't matter. Most correctly predicted President Barack Obama would win Nevada and the White House and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller would keep his GOP seat, but the margins were off, and some were wrong.
What did matter: The Democratic Party machine here boosted the Latino vote, registered more voters than Republicans and got them to the polls. Conversely, ticket-splitters and nonpartisan voters who put Heller over the top also mattered, demonstrating an independent streak that makes Silver State elections unpredictable.
"Nevada again proved to be ticket-splitters of the first order," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.
And, yes, candidates and character mattered, which was one reason Obama's coattails weren't long enough to save Berkley or fellow Democrat John Oceguera, who was drubbed by U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.
Here's a look at lessons learned in an election in which voters backed a Democratic president, a Republican senator and a congressional delegation of two Democrats and two Republicans.
Reid built it, and it performed magnificently, registering 90,000 more voters than Republicans statewide and getting more voters to the polls during early voting ahead of Election Day - 44 percent Democrats against 37 percent GOP. The result: a record 80.6 percent turnout, or 1,013,195 voters.
It mattered most in Democratic state Sen. Steven Horsford's victory over Republican businessman Danny Tarkanian in Nevada's new 4th Congressional District. Tarkanian began the race with high name recognition as the son of famed University of Nevada, Las Vegas, basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian. He also had experience from three prior highly competitive races.
Horsford initially wasn't running away with the race despite a Democratic registration advantage - 13 percentage points - in the vast district, which includes North Las Vegas and all or part of six GOP-leaning rural counties. What made the difference was the Democratic machine's union ground troops, particularly the Culinary Local 226. Horsford's rallies with Obama also helped.
In the end, Horsford won in a blowout, getting 50 percent of the vote compared with Tarkanian's 42 percent.
The GOP machine doesn't exist. The Nevada and Clark County Republican parties have been torn by internal rivalries and disarray. The Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee had to set up temporary Team Nevada offices to run get-out-the-vote efforts.
Hispanic voters are a growing, Democratic-leaning force in Nevada, accounting for 19 percent of Tuesday's electorate, according to a New York Times exit poll. That is a record, beating 15 percent seen in 2010 and 2008 in Nevada, where 26 percent of the population is Latino.
Obama won 71 percent of those Hispanics - in Nevada and nationwide - according to the exit poll. GOP challenger Mitt Romney picked up 24 percent in the Silver State. Romney's Spanish-speaking son, Craig, visited Las Vegas several times to woo Latinos, but it barely boosted his father. Four years ago, Obama won 76 percent of Nevada's Hispanic vote, compared with 22 percent for John McCain.
In the U.S. Senate race, Heller did a little better than Romney, landing 25 percent of Hispanic voters, according to the exit poll. Berkley, meanwhile, did worse than Obama, picking up 65 percent of Latinos. Berkley may have won if she could have come closer to Obama with Hispanics and other key Democratic groups.
The Latino vote remains a long-term problem for Republicans, who are losing the growing Hispanic immigrant class spreading across the Southwest and turning red states to blue.
"If the GOP does not find some way to moderate its position on immigration-related issues, it will be difficult for the party to compete not just here and in New Mexico and Colorado, but also Arizona and eventually Texas," said Dave Damore, a UNLV professor who studies the Latino vote.
Washoe County was the best example of ticket-splitting. Obama won the battleground county by 6,655 votes, while the Heller won it by 20,605 votes.
"That's a lot of Obama-Heller voters out there," said Herzik, who noted that many could be voters not registered as Democrats or Republicans.
Independents, who made up one-third of the Nevada electorate, by far favored Heller over Berkley, 54-34, or by 20 points, the exit poll showed. Romney led Obama but by a slimmer margin, 50-43, among independents.
Heller represented Washoe in Congress for three terms and was expected to do well in the Reno area, but there also may have been ticket-splitting in Clark County, Berkley's turf as a seven-term congresswoman. Obama beat Romney by about 100,000 votes in Clark County; Berkley ran ahead of Heller by 60,000.
Damore said Nevada was not the only split state this year. Romney easily won Indiana, Missouri, and Montana, yet all three elected Democrats to the Senate.
"Without strong national tides one way or another, candidates and campaigns make the difference," Damore said.
Character matters, especially when big money is spent on attack ads. Berkley, for example, was defined as one of the most corrupt members of Congress after the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into her advocacy on kidney matters. Outside groups spent at least $27.8 million on the race while the candidates will end up spending about $20 million total.
"The ethics and the bombardment of ads starting over the summer likely defined her in the eyes of voters who were unfamiliar with her, and this was too big of an obstacle for the Reid machine to overcome," Damore said.
Tarkanian, meanwhile, was hurt by a $17 million judgment from a sour real estate deal. Horsford had his own ethical issues, but they didn't seem to resonate.
"Did ethics matter? The two candidates most challenged on that front, Berkley and Tarkanian, both lost," Herzik said. "When you lose by 12,000 votes, you have to think that without such baggage she might win."
The only real poll is on Election Day, the saying goes, and that was proved again. Most public polling accurately predicted the winners, but none foresaw Tarkanian's big loss to Horsford.
Part of the problem is that Latinos are hard to poll, especially those who prefer to speak Spanish, have only cellphones and come from low-income groups that lean Democratic, Damore said.
Nor do polls capture what is happening on the ground. Asking voters their opinion is one thing, getting them to vote is another. Nevada Democrats are better at getting their supporters to the polls.
"Polls have a tough time capturing intensity of vote and can't account for any get-out-the-vote effort," Herzik said.
So how did the polls commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal do this year? The SurveyUSA polls were off by a few points in three cases - yet still predicted the winner - but were off by a mile in the Horsford-Tarkanian race.
Here's the tale of the tape for RJ pre-election and Election Day results:
Poll: Obama-Romney, 50-46. Vote: 52-46.
Poll: Heller-Berkley, 46-40. Vote: 46-45.
Poll: Tarkanian-Horsford, 47-42. Vote: Horsford-Tarkanian: 50-42.
Poll: Heck-Oceguera, 50-40. Vote: 50-43.
Even Mark Mellman, the pope of political polling, proved fallible. As public polls showed Berkley losing, her campaign released his survey showing her leading, 41-38.
In 2010, Mellman was lauded when he correctly predicted Reid's re-election while nearly every public poll - including the Review-Journal's - showed the Senate majority leader 4 points behind.