LAS VEGAS — Republicans said for months that if the Nevada Senate race was a referendum on Harry Reid, the unpopular majority leader would lose.
Reid didn't let that happen.
He adeptly painted opponent Sharron Angle as an extremist immediately after she won her primary — and proceeded to make the contest as much about her awkward and unconventional statements as Reid's own troubles.
Then he deployed his secret weapon: a powerful turnout machine that brought Democratic and Hispanic voters out to the polls in droves.
Reid's relentless TV ad assault against Angle and his powerful get-out-the-vote effort were huge factors in his no-holds-barred victory over Angle on a day when Republicans seized control of the House and gained Senate seats.
Talking with reporters Wednesday, Reid pointed to Angle's proposal to privatize Social Security as a defining contrast between them. He calls it one of the great government programs in history.
Reid's first negative TV ad of the campaign, put up just days after the June primary, portrayed Angle as a heartless budget-slasher who would abandon the elderly. "Sharron Angle wants to wipe out Social Security," a narrator intoned darkly. "What's next?"
Angle argued that she wanted to make changes only for younger workers, but the damage was done. It took her weeks to get her campaign organized and air her own ads, a period when Reid had an open field to define her on his terms, an image that stuck.
By the time he was done with her, Reid had pummeled Angle over everything from her proposal to phase out Medicare to her suggestion while in the Legislature that inmates enter a drug rehabilitation program devised by the founder of Scientology.
"Before Sharron could put her hands up and put her (boxing) gloves on, they did a pretty good job tagging her," said Republican media consultant John Brabender, a member of Angle's team.
"There clearly was a point when she was treading water, at best. That ultimately hurt her campaign in the long run," he said.
Reid senior adviser Rebecca Lambe said the campaign sought to present voters with a sharply drawn choice. Angle "wanted to wipe out Social Security and Medicare, and I think voters made a clear choice," she said.
Republicans also marveled at Nevada's Democratic turnout machine, which helped President Barack Obama win a 12-point victory here 2008. Reid built off that for 2010. The Democratic leader and his union allies deployed hundreds of volunteers to knock on doors, make phone calls and drive voters to the polls.
The turnout drive was boosted by several appearances in the state by Obama, who helped build momentum behind the Senate leader he called "my partner."
In contrast, the National Republican Committee didn't come through with a comparable get-out-the-vote effort for Angle.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Jones, who advised the Angle campaign, said "you have to respect the Democratic operation in Nevada."
An Associated Press analysis of exit poll results showed that Reid's turnout efforts seemed to help Reid trounce Angle among minorities.
The exit poll showed that Reid won two-thirds of the Hispanic vote, eight in 10 blacks and three-quarters of Asians. He said Wednesday he has long sought to make inroads with Hispanics.
"People, in fact, made fun of me, saying 'Why are you wasting your time with a group that doesn't register, and if they register don't vote?' Well, we proved that wrong in 2008 and we certainly proved that ... wrong last night."
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