Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Nevadans are disgusted and deflated, angry and anxious. And although obviously winners emerged Election Day, few voters are feeling jubilant.
About two dozen Sun journalists interviewed more than 250 voters across the state Tuesday, and Nevadans’ responses echoed the loud ambient noise of the entire election, which seems to have come down to a choice between the lesser of evils.
Nevadans described this year’s voting as a joyless slog, like needing a new car but only having the budget to trudge through a used car lot in search of something that runs.
Some Republicans who have taken to the Tea Party movement were happy to vote for Sharron Angle, the Republican challenger to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But many were motivated more to oust Reid than support the former Reno assemblywoman. Barbara Light, a 69-year-old Republican real estate broker who cast her ballot at Canarelli Middle School in Las Vegas, summed up some of this Republican sentiment: “I don’t like her,” she said of Angle. “But I like Reid less.”
The Reid toxicity carried over to his son Rory Reid, the Clark County commissioner running for governor as a Democrat. Rory Reid carried the burden of the last name, as voters seemed to recoil from two members of the family in positions of power. “Rory Reid’s last name just killed him,” said Jimmy Lee Smith, a union construction worker who voted for Angle. In addition to his last name, Rory Reid faced a tough opponent in former Nevada Attorney General and federal Judge Brian Sandoval, who crushed the younger Reid.
Harry Reid supporters were often unenthused, but they soaked up the Reid campaign’s message that his opponent Angle is extreme. “I’m not a huge Harry Reid fan, but I think Sharron Angle is terrifying,” said Anna Dowley, a Democrat.
And on and on it went, with voters choosing a flame-broiled burger because the fried ones are poisoned, or fried burgers because the flame-broiled will give you cancer.
“Sharron Angle is just horrible. Nothing she stood for made sense,” said Louis Waller, a Democrat voting at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas.
“I voted for Angle because of his lack of doing anything for Nevada,” said Kelly Tate, a 38-year-old Republican who voted at Tanaka Elementary in Las Vegas.
Voters, as in many midterm elections when the president is not on the ballot, were sharply polarized and partisan, according to Sun interviews. Despite rising registration among voters not affiliated with any party, many didn’t show up, with the two major parties accounting for more than 70 percent of 250 voters interviewed.
With such polarization, few voters seemed to struggle with the nuance of candidate positions or any significant indecision. Many said they either could not or would not articulate why they voted for a Democrat or Republican, especially if they were talking about races other than the Senate race.
Others had rather arbitrary reasons for their choices. A voter chose Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, because he liked her name. Another chose Titus opponent Joe Heck because he can’t stand Titus’ Southern accent.
In some cases, the campaigns showed success getting their messages across, especially in the Senate race, during which the candidates and outside groups spent at least $50 million and likely much more.
Angle voters called Reid an elitist and noted his residence at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington. They cited the state’s sorry economic state, and Reid’s lengthy tenure in Washington. They castigated the health care reform bill and the rising national debt.
Reid voters attacked Angle for having suggested she wants to “phase out” Social Security and privatize Veterans Affairs. They called her “nutty” and “extreme.” Hispanics and those related to them angrily denounced Angle’s TV ads that portrayed young Latinos as undocumented thugs, and her clumsy remarks at a high school when she said some Hispanic teens looked Asian.
Perhaps most poignant, many Nevadans said the recession had affected them or someone they know personally. A woman who lost her job as a purchasing manager for a homebuilding company and is working as a bar back at a casino; a man who is supporting his unemployed family members; a man in construction whose company has been reduced from 140 to just nine workers; an electrician out of work for two years; a homeowner whose property was once valued at $170,000 but is now worth $27,000.
When they were asked to assign blame for the recession, which began in 2007 and in Nevada will soon enter its fourth year, the answer depended largely on the voters’ political party. Democrats blame former President George W. Bush. Republicans blame the Democrats. Some blame greedy land speculators for allowing the housing bubble, or Wall Street’s exotic gambles. Others point to Nevada’s largely one-dimensional economy.
There seems to be no consensus among Nevadans as to how to get out of the morass, other than some despised candidate not winning office or winning again.
More than half said they are worried about Nevada’s future. Marilyn Wickel, a Democrat voting at the West Las Vegas Library, was blunt: “We’re the dumbest state in the nation,” she said, referring to a widely publicized recent article published in the online magazine The Daily Beast.
Among the 40 percent who say they are confident things will turn around, some have turned to hope for divine intervention.
Annie Miller, also voting in West Las Vegas, said, “With prayer you can stay in it. God won’t leave you.”
Cortney Hendley, of Sun sister company VEGAS.com, contributed to this story.