LAS VEGAS -- In a year of anti-incumbent fervor and anger over the economy, how did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) beat the odds and win a fifth term in a state battered by the bad economy?
A look at interviews with voters as they left the polls suggests it was by making Sharron Angle, his Tea Party-backed Republican opponent the issue, not the economy.
In a state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation, 40 percent of voters said they'd been laid off in the last two years -- and Reid won them, 49 percent to 39. In a state with the highest home foreclosure rate in the nation, 53 percent of voters said they or a relative were worried about losing their home -- and Reid and Angle split them, 46-48.
In the closing days of the campaign, Reid's TV ads pounded away at Angle, painting her as extreme and out of the mainstream--an opponent of Social Security and a proponent of privatizing the Veterans' Affairs Department and eliminating the Education Department.
In the exit poll, 44 percent said Angle was "too conservative," and Reid won moderates, 62-33.
At the same time, Reid's get-out-the-vote operation capitalized on Angle's tough stand on illegal immigration to mobilize Hispanics, who turned out at a greater rate than in the 2008 presidential election and voted for Reid, 66-31. And Reid got help from organized labor, as union households voted for him 69-29.
In this contest between the grassroots intensity of the Tea Party movement and a well-oiled campaign machine, the machine won.