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January 26, 2015

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In defeat, Sharron Angle finds Nevada not the state she thought


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Sharron Angle arrives with her husband, Ted, to give her concession speech at the Republicans’ election-night party early Wednesday at the Venetian.

Harry Reid victory

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gives a victory speech during a Democratic election party at Aria on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Election 2010 - Republican Party

Sharron Angle arrives with her husband, Ted, to give her concession speech at the Republicans' election-night party early Wednesday at the Venetian. Launch slideshow »

Sharron Angle, the vanquished Republican challenger to Sen. Harry Reid, depicted herself in her brochures as a conservative warrior, driving her old pickup truck, brandishing a firearm. She picked up the Tea Party flag and waved it and then used the flagpole to stick the Nevada establishment in the eye. Although Angle lives in suburban Reno, her most fervent followers reside in the mostly white, rural counties.

In a year when Republicans, including deeply conservative ones, won all over the country, Angle lost, even though Reid was a candidate whose approval ratings sat in the doldrums below 50 percent for years.

Quite simply, Nevada is not the state Angle thought it is, or would like it to be.

Note the Angle profile: anti-establishment, white, (quasi) rural, ultraconservative.

In her defeat, and in her profile, we can see the important factors influencing Nevada’s political climate. Some are long-standing characteristics. Other factors are newer and have been developing only recently, but will almost certainly continue, perhaps at an accelerated pace.

1. A powerfully entrenched establishment that is bipartisan, or, rather, unipartisan.

“The Establishment won. At the end of the day, that’s who won,” UNLV political scientist David Damore said. As a one-industry town, Las Vegas has just a few players who need care and feeding, and no one is closer to those players, whether Democrat or Republican, than Reid. His backers included the Culinary Union, but also MGM Resorts International’s Republican CEO Jim Murren. Reid has also spent years cultivating the mining industry, which considers him a bulwark against Eastern environmentalists and new taxes at the state Legislature.

For years, decades actually, Reid has done favors for these Establishment players, and the favors came back.

“They were in whole hog with him,” said Robert Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West. “Business here sees him for what he is — a transactional politician. And it’s a transactional town. And I say these things in a positive sense.”

The power of the Establishment showed itself in other races, as well. Although Reid’s son Rory ran for governor, his father’s camp didn’t want him running, and his Republican opponent Brian Sandoval managed, oddly, to become even more Establishment than the senator’s son. Sandoval has been a gaming regulator and represented shareholders for the big electric utility.

At the center of this influence is R&R Partners, the advertising and public affairs firm that gave the world “What happens here, stays here.” Its CEO, Billy Vassiliadis, was a chief adviser to Reid. The firm’s top lobbyist, Republican Pete Ernaut, recruited Sandoval to run.

Angle had hoped the conservative grass roots could elect her, just as the liberal grass roots hoped they could transform the state’s politics after the 2008 election. Both were delusional.

2. Over the long haul, demographics are destiny. Minorities make up 31 percent of the population. Hispanics constituted 15 percent of the electorate, and 68 percent of them backed Reid, according to CNN exit polling.

“If you pay attention to demographic trends, you can win a close election,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer.

Angle, who used TV ads that many Hispanics considered racist, helped Reid mightily with this tone deafness.

Given current birthrates, the state will become more diverse. Lang said Southern Nevada is becoming like a “quasi-Southern California.”

Republicans ignore these trends and continue their vituperative rhetoric at their long-term peril. “Let me introduce you to the Whig and Know Nothing parties from the mid-19th century,” Lang said. “You dance with the Know Nothings into oblivion.”

But Democrats must be attuned to any sense among the burgeoning population of Hispanics that they are being used or taken for granted by politicians.

The trend also presents a challenge to city fathers trying to stitch together a cohesive civic fabric: As the Sun reported in 2006, a key political dynamic that will play out in the coming years will be the tension between older white voters — many of whom are transplants and put their children through school in some state in the East -- having to pay taxes to support schools for minority children.

In this age of extreme austerity, it could make for ugly politics.

Lang said older Nevadans need to be convinced that putting money into schools will make young minorities more productive, which in turn will help them pay the Social Security and Medicare costs of the aged.

Not an easy sell.

3. The cities rule. Washoe County, where Reno sits, backed Reid, just as it backed President Barack Obama in 2008. In both cases the state’s second largest county joined the biggest, making the rest of the state irrelevant.

Nevada is now thoroughly urban, paradoxically the most urban in the country despite its desert sprawl, and urban interests will dominate the state’s future.

“If you can appeal to urban Nevada,” Lang said, “including the moderately conservative areas, then you win.”

For decades, North vs. South has dominated the state’s political dynamic, and that will continue on some issues such as water and political representation in Carson City. But on other issues, the two cities will be bound together, seeking to use their political influence to meet the needs of their urban dwellers.

4. Truly purple and never more important.

Reid won. But so did Republican Sandoval. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus lost narrowly to Joe Heck, but Democratic constitutional officers won. Republicans picked up a few seats in the Legislature, but didn’t enjoy the wave effect of Republicans elsewhere. In retrospect, Angle, the rabid conservative, could not win statewide.

The state’s bellwether appears to be the Las Vegas Beltway that encircles much of the valley. Democrats won these key suburban precincts in 2008, but Republicans came back strong in 2010. The party that controls the beltway controls Nevada.

With Democrats getting pummeled in the industrial Midwest, expect Obama to pin his hopes on Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada to achieve the necessary 270 electoral votes for re-election. So expect Nevada to be a battleground again in 2012.

Which means we all have just a short holiday from the political ads.

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  1. Lang said Southern Nevada is becoming like a "quasi-Southern California."

    Great, sounds so appealing. But hey, who cares just as long as it's Democrats who get to run everything into the ditch like they have done in that messed up state.

  2. Angle's anti-immigration ads were the most blatantly racist ads run in the entire country and an embarrassment for Nevada. Why her campaign continued to run them after all the negative attention they garnered for her is a mystery. Those ads, more than anything else, imo, cost her the election.

  3. Whoa, whoa whoa. Demographics are NOT destiny. Anyone who says that doesn't quite get it. If Demographics were destiny then Nevada's growing Hispanic population means we will always have a subpar education system. This is wrong because we've seen Florida dramatically improve the quality of education with similar spending levels and a similar size Hispanic population.

    Now I agree that Republicans can't ignore Hispanics, but I cannot agree that Democrats have taken some moral high ground on the issue either.

  4. Memo to the Crazy Cat Lady;

    You do NOT win elections by pissing off large blocks of the voting public.

    What are you, nuts or something???

    Women, Hispanics, Gays, Veterans, Children, the sick, the elderly, the unemployed, the list is endless; "How To Snatch Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory; The Sharron Angle Story"....subtitled "I Just Couldn't Keep My Big Fat Mouth Shut".

  5. "bats**t crazy angle turned off too many people with her message..."

    dipstick & ilk -- right, that's why she came in second to Reid by less than 6% of the votes. You really should think before you post.

    Since the Democrats so narrowly keep control of the Senate and Reid his job, the status quo that tanked our economy lives on.

  6. This is what you get when the Tea Party votes for an intelligent well spoken communicator

  7. @Jose - any fantasies we may have had about moving forward after the election were dashed when both McConnell and Boehner came out saying they have no intention of working "with" Obama.

  8. > the status quo that tanked our economy lives on.

    I know you won't let reality get in your way but the economy ran off the rails in 2007.

    > why was the election so close?

    reid won by how many votes? hint --- close isn't the word most would use to describe this election. you maybe --- but you show clouded judgment, so much so as to marginalize yourself.

  9. tigermike said: "Sandoval is of Hispanic descent and he was a well groomed, safe moderate not prone to gaffs and mistakes."

    You gotta give Harry Reid credit for this one, he has set a new level for what is an acceptable description for a candidates now. I'm surprised tigermike didn't add " and speaks without a Latino accent."

    What will we hear about an Asian candidate, that he or she can pronounce "fried rice" correctly?

  10. Boftx, what Reid said was reprehensible, but it seems to me that tigermike was talking about Sandoval being groomed for office, not his hairstyle and shaving habits.

    And considering you supported Sharron Angle, a candidate who ran the most overtly racist campaign Nevada has seen in decades kinda undermines your point.

    Given what Sharron Angle said about Asians and Hispanics, I can only assume you're comfortable with your double standard.

  11. Actually ksand, there was another remark regarding a candidate of color being "clean cut and articulate" if I recall correctly. I don't recall the specifics, but we are hearing it more and more.

    The fact that I said I intended to vote for Angle because I felt it was that important to not return Harry Reid as majority leader does not by any means say I supported her views 100%. We've already had that discussion.

    This is about how more and more we are seeing a "soft" racism wrapped inside these left-handed compliments.

  12. That an apparently sizable number of fools would actually voice support for her is about the only thing Sharron Angle got right.

  13. Angle never had a chance. It was just a bunch of liars on Nevada talk radio that had their typical delusions.

  14. Mr. Sun, reading your story and the gist of most comments here, it is quite apparent what kind of state Nevada is a state made up of people who never learned how to be gracious in victory...although I am not surprised, I am nonetheless disturbed by the tone of your story, and of course, your weak and inane 'analysis,' Mr. would seem that you have learned nothing from the past several months...

  15. Skerlahdee...three things...

    1) You helped me make my point - thank you

    2) We both lost, but only one of us is wise enough to know it

    3) There is no such word as refudiated

    Enjoy your evening...

  16. What this proves is that the unions with a bunch of dollars and intimadating people to vote along with taking them to the polls and feeding them will win an election for Searchlight Harry. About 200 million did the trick. Yes it was a trick you fools.

  17. What HARRY REID did is what tyrant and despots do in any BANANA REPUBLIC, I for one come from one of them. Thuggery at its best. The american people should be very vigilant of these dangerous tactics I dont care if you are a deocract, republican, liberal or conservative that's not the way democracy works. I hope it doen't get to the point where I have to be afraid of a knock on the door in the middle of the night because I oppose the ruling party.

    The democracts can't win without the union support,
    that't why they funnel billions of dollards to their coffers, in kind unions donate billions of dollars back at their candidates plus more important man-hours canvassing the streets.
    WAKE AMERICA our constitution is being subverted and perverted by these corrupt politicians when they neutralize your god-given vote. Look what happen in Minessota AL FRANKEN won due to
    dead people, ACORN, felon votes and suppressing the military vote. In Connecticut 63 thousand votes came from an empty lot.

    I hope that now that the republicans won the house they bring ERIC HOLDER to the floor and explain why he let the black panthers get away with voter intimidation and why there is six votes for every voter in RHODE ISLAND.

    Have you forgoten why JIMMY CARTER go around the world to supervise elections so they dont get stolen by despots or any member of the oligarchy?

  18. Here's the reason Angle lost: she's unattractive.

    Here's the reason Palin is so popular: she's just as bats**t crazy but she's very attractive. It's the same reason McCain thought Palin would help him win the Presidency. Some might think that conclusion is sexist. Maybe.... but it's the truth.

  19. There was only one thing that saved Harry Reid behind in the election. The massive bussing of
    union member into voting place. It does seem
    extremely questionable that he was so far behind
    and overnight twiked out a win. Considering that
    the Services Union president bragged about the number of Criminal Illigal Alines who belonged to
    his union I wonder how many registered to vote
    illigally? The voters of Nevada were done a great
    diservice and will suffer as a result of letting Unions control their states economy and future.