The machine worked.
The full-throttle, get-out-the-vote engine the Democrats built in Nevada in 2008 roared to life again, this time to re-elect Harry Reid to his fifth term in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday.
Reid comfortably defeated Republican opponent Sharron Angle, whose passionate but disorganized following of conservatives and Tea Party supporters was no match for the traditional Democrats, minorities, unions and "Republicans for Reid" power brokers the incumbent aligned for victory.
"Harry! Harry! Harry!" his supporters shouted at the Aria on the Strip, where Democrats gathered to watch returns after two weeks of early voting and Election Day efforts put him over the top.
"Today, Nevada chose hope over fear," Reid said in a late-night victory speech to wild cheers and applause. "Nevada chose to look forward and not backwards. Nevada made this choice because we know it's not about us versus them, it's about every Nevadan, all of us, in this together."
Reid, who has survived close races before, thanked those who helped him turn out enough voters to make the difference in one of the hardest fought and highest stakes contests in the country.
"You never gave up because you know Nevadans never give up," Reid said. "I know how hard you worked. And I appreciate it. ... I'm not finished fighting," added the former boxer, who said the race was one of the toughest fights of his political career. "In fact, tonight, I'm more determined than ever."
Reid acknowledged that Nevada is facing difficult economic times, suffering from the highest jobless rate in the nation and record home foreclosure and bankruptcy rates, which put his re-election in jeopardy as he faced a barrage of blame from Angle and Republicans.
"Nevada's going to recover," he promised, saying he would work to make it happen. "We're going to bounce back stronger than ever. I've never counted Nevada out, and I'm not about to now."
At the Republicans' election night party at The Venetian on the Strip, Angle supporters cried out in shock and dismay and then fell quiet upon hearing the news that she had lost. Traveling from Reno, she hadn't arrived at the hotel-casino when news organizations called the race for Reid at around 9:30 p.m.
Angle, who gave her concession speech after midnight, said she was glad that the Nevada Senate race inspired the country and got some people involved in politics for the first time.
"We were able to inspire not only Nevadans but a whole country," Angle said, noting she raised more than $14 million during a three-month period, mostly from out of state.
"I want you to see that I'm still smiling because I believe in American exceptionalism," Angle, 61, said. "I'm glad you got involved because that's what America's all about. . . . You've done an incredible job, we the people, and I'm so proud of you."
She thanked God and her family and friends and noted that other Republicans won victories Tuesday at both the state and national levels.
"They may call us the Tea Party, but we know we are Main Street, America," Angle said.
Ardelle Bellman worked the phones for Angle and came to The Venetian wearing an Angle for Senate T-shirt. She left in what she called a "dejected mood" about 10:30 p.m. Bellman said she didn't want to see Angle concede because she didn't buy the results and wants her candidate to challenge them.
"There were too many (voting) machine discrepancies," she said, pressing the GOP theme that Reid's machine went too far to win. "She can't just give a concession speech and walk away."
The results, 50 percent for Reid to Angle's 45 percent, were a shocking comedown for Angle as public polls had shown her edging out Reid going into Election Day. Yet the finale seemed a fitting end for a race that's been unpredictable from its onset.
The outcome was a testament to Reid's staying power, coming 12 years after he narrowly won re-election by 428 votes and as more than half of Nevadans have an unfavorable opinion of the 70-year-old senator, the son of a Searchlight miner who rose to power over the course of three decades in Washington.
Reid's victory also was a blow to the Tea Party movement, which had backed Angle and had made the Democratic leader its No. 1 target as conservatives nationwide poured millions of dollars behind the bid to defeat the legislative driver of President Barack Obama's agenda, including the divisive new health care law.
"The Tea Party Express has been derailed in Nevada," former Sen. Richard Bryan exclaimed, adding that when polls showed the race a dead heat for weeks, "I was worried."
But Bryan said Reid managed to pull off a victory by successfully portraying Angle as too extreme for wanting to phase out Social Security and do away with agencies such as the Education Department.
"He made her the issue, and she tried to make the economy the issue," Bryan said. "She was partially successful. He was successful enough to win."
Nationally, Reid's victory was one bright spot for Democrats, who lost seats in the Senate that he runs as majority leader, and that lost the House to Republicans in a sweep election that was a repudiation of President Obama's economic agenda in hard times.
In Nevada, election results also were mixed.
Republican Brian Sandoval easily won election as governor over the senator's son, Rory Reid, the Clark County Commission chairman who never caught on with voters. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., also both easily won re-election.
Freshman Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., however, narrowly lost to her GOP challenger Joe Heck.
The polls closed a bit late in several counties, including Elko and Washoe, as voters stood in lines at the scheduled 7 p.m. deadline, delaying release of results.
No substantial complaints of Election Day irregularities were reported to the secretary of state's office, although a complaint about last week's early get out the vote efforts by Las Vegas casino companies backing Reid was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The target of the complaint, Harrah's, was accused of using its management and supervisors who support Reid to strong-arm workers into going to the polls. Harrah's and MGM Resorts International also bused workers to the polls during the two-week early voting period, and members of the powerful Culinary Union were ubiquitous on the streets, going door to door and manning phone banks.
The key to Reid's victory Tuesday, however, goes beyond his get-out-the-vote effort this year and dates back to 2002 when he began to rebuild the state Democratic Party from the ground.
His effort culminated in 2008 when the Democrats registered thousands of new voters, giving them a 100,000 registered voter edge over Republicans and helping Obama win the state, thanks mostly to first time voters, Hispanics, blacks and other minority voters that Reid won again this time.
The Democrats still have 60,000 more registered voters than Republicans now and Hispanics organizers registered 10,000 more Latinos in 2010, making them an electoral force.
"This is something the Democrats have been building for eight years" under Reid's guidance, said David Damore, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "At the end of the day, it's all about getting your people to the polls. The seeds of his victory go back to 2002."
Reid crushed Angle in Clark County, 54 percent to 41 percent, and beat her in her home Washoe County, 50-45, thanks to his effort to pull moderate Republicans into his camp.
Up North, Reid's machine was in full force as well, according to Eric Herzik, political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. He said that one reason the polls closed late in Washoe was that two places in Democrat-heavy areas had long lines.
"All of the ground game at its most basic level of campaigning seemed to break for Reid," Herzik said. "And it counteracted the devotion of the voters for Sharron Angle."
Herzik said he wouldn't call the election an embrace of Reid, however, since Nevadans still seem upset with the economy and unhappy with the direction of the country under Obama.
"I think Reid did an excellent job of painting Angle as too extreme," he said. "Back in January, Republicans were saying anybody can beat Harry Reid. But you don't win four terms in the Senate and you don't become the majority leader by being easy to beat. His campaign was close to flawless."
Angle, meanwhile, made plenty of gaffes, and Republicans were deeply divided at the state and national levels as Tea Party-backed conservatives took on the establishment.
Amy Kremer, director of the Tea Party Express, said she was disappointed Angle lost, but that the movement will continue to push the GOP to fight for more fiscal discipline in Washington.
"We didn't get here overnight, and we're going to keep pushing," said Kremer, who came to Las Vegas with her troupe to watch the returns. "She definitely gave Harry Reid a run for his money."
Earlier Tuesday, Angle sounded optimistic she would beat Reid by day's end.
"This is an awakening of our America, our Nevada that goes beyond party lines, beyond generational lines," Angle told about 500 cheering supporters at the Peppermill in Reno.
Angle got misty-eyed as she talked about her love for "God, family, country. I sound like a Marine."
"This is one nation under God. We owe our future to him. This is all about the people, about the Constitution, about our founding fathers," she said.
Angle said she has run in close races throughout her career, including a 421-vote loss to Heller in the Republican primary in 2006. Given her history, the former Reno assemblywomen may make another bid for office in 2012, although it's too soon to tell.
During the day, there were signs the election was going Reid's way despite his unpopularity.
At one Las Vegas polling site, Staton Elementary School in Summerlin, Manuel Alvarez, a Democrat, said his main reason for coming out was to vote for Reid. He cited his anger at the anti-illegal immigration ads Angle ran, which were criticized as xenophobic by Latino leaders.
"Reid looks pretty weak," he said. "I'm Hispanic, and I don't like the way she portrays Hispanics. But Reid, he's been so weak with the economy and foreclosures."
Liz Buckley, a retired Republican, who voted at Wasden Elementary School, said she didn't vote for Reid or Angle.
"I don't like Harry Reid, and I don't like Sharron Angle,'' Buckley said. "I don't like them knocking at each other. Everybody's sick of that."
At Fyfe Elementary School near Valley View Boulevard and West Bonanza Road, Jill Cribari, came away from the voting booth wishing there was a good third choice for U.S. senator. Neither candidate, she said, had good ideas for jump-starting the economy.
"We didn't have anybody good to vote for for senator," she said, explaining that she only voted for Reid because she disagreed with Angle's positions on issues. "It's just a shame we don't have a solid substantial third party. We really need one."
Review-Journal writers Steve Tetreault, Henry Brean, Brian Haynes, Paul Harasim, Keith Rogers and Ed Vogel contributed to this story. Contact Laura Myers at lmyers @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.