Nevada’s old political guard, powered by union muscle, can still win a big election battle. On Tuesday night, they propelled Harry Reid across the finish line for a fifth term in the U.S. Senate. But in doing so, they lost the war.
By pouring manpower and money into the Reid campaign, the empire took its eye off the conservative rebellion in Nevada’s down-ballot races.
The results will resonate for a decade.
Consider the state’s political landscape a year ago. The sitting GOP governor was more than a failure — he was an unmitigated embarrassment. The tax-and-spend inmates ran the joint in Carson City. Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature, holding a veto-proof majority in the Assembly.
The climate was perfect for Democrats to capture the governor’s race in 2010 and put a political sleeper hold on Republicans for years to come. Democrats would have controlled the redistricting process and thereby controlled the Legislature until the 2020 census. They would have drawn the lines for Nevada’s probable 4th Congressional District in such a way so as to safely send another Democrat to Washington.
Look at the landscape today.
Republicans not only won the governor’s race on Tuesday, they gained seats both in the Assembly and the Senate. Democrats lost their veto-proof majority in the Assembly.
Now it’s a fair fight. GOP Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval has real veto power, and with strong leadership, he should be able to drive the fiscal and legislative agenda. He can also shape the redistricting process.
At the national level, the House of Representatives went Republican in historic fashion. Nevada contributed to the “shellacking,” as President Barack Obama called it, by firing Rep. Dina Titus after one term. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will get fired, too, and the president’s agenda must now pass through a gantlet of conservatives who view their mandate as “stop the spending.”
And while Reid returns to the Senate (I hope this time to represent Nevadans instead of the left wing of the national Democratic Party — but don’t hold your breath), he has a slimmer majority and a bunch of members of his caucus worrying about their own political fates in 2012.
Sen. Reid and President Barack Obama know the party’s over. After two years of ramming budget-busting legislation through on a partisan basis, they now talk about reconciliation and bipartisanship. But let me tell you, it’s hard to play nice with people who just a week ago called you racist.
Give the empire its due. The Reid folks executed their campaign strategy almost perfectly. Big Labor and a few vote-driving ninjas from the Obama machine helped produce a turnout that sealed the deal. Unions can still frog-march members to the polls in Las Vegas. They can still, in near unfettered fashion, engage in enticements and borderline coercive tactics. And, of course, they can funnel the dues of unwilling members to a targeted race with stunning precision. Couple that with the lobbyist cash flowing like a river into the Reid campaign and, well, even political corpses can unexpectedly come to life.
But it came at a price. To win the battle to save Harry Reid, the empire lost the war in Nevada.
Just to clean out my note pad and put the election of 2010 behind me, here are a few odds and ends:
— How in the world did Harry Reid garner more than 50 percent of the vote? For a guy with such high unfavorables, I guarantee you his own campaign didn’t see that coming. I’m not a conspiracy guy, but that stat might be the most surprising one of the race. How’d he do that?
— Internal polls for Republican nominee Sharron Angle had her up by 1 point just before the election. Internal polls for Reid had him up by 4 points.
Reid even outperformed himself.
— There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on in the Angle camp. “Stubborn racehorse” was the general consensus as GOP staff returned from whence they were lent.
— Why are absentee ballots in Nevada sent out automatically?
If you request one, you keep getting one every election, whether you intend to vote absentee or not. Seems to me you should be required to request an absentee ballot each and every year you need one. I know there are checks to prevent double voting, but nonetheless, why leave that loose end dangling?
— And finally, dear readers, do you think I’ll get a holiday card from Sen. Reid this year? If I do, are there any volunteers out there who would open it for me?
Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@ reviewjournal.com) is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media.