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November 28, 2015

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Parties could learn a thing — or 6 — from Senate battle

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At the Polls: Voter Choices

The Sun exit polled voters at three polling stations throughout the valley to find out who voters were choosing for the hotly contested Senate race between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, the Governor race between Rory Reid and Brian Sandoval, the 3rd District Congressional race between Dina Titus and Joe Heck and the 1st District Congressional race between Shelley Berkley and Kenneth Wegner.

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 »

In a political race sure to find its way into campaign how-to books, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled off a decisive victory in a climate many thought would kill any chance he had at re-election. Here’s a look at six lessons — for Democrats and Republicans — to be gleaned from Reid’s campaign against GOP challenger Sharron Angle:

1. Don’t nominate a candidate who represents your party’s fringe:

Sure, Angle appeared to be the best Republican to tap Tea Party enthusiasm manifested in boisterous rallies statewide. But her views didn’t reflect the broader Republican electorate.

Exit polls showed she lost up to 15 percent of Republican votes.

“I can’t believe she was even on the ballot,” Las Vegas Republican Alice Hatfield said. “Doing away with Social Security, Medicaid, privatizing the VA — no way. Harry needs to go, but there’s nobody on the ballot to replace him.”

2. Don’t leave anything to chance — prepare, prepare, prepare:

A rule of thumb is to begin running at least two years before an election, allowing time to practice, learn from minor stumbles, build coalitions and raise money.

In Reid’s case, planning for this election began perhaps 12 years ago. After narrowly escaping in 1998, with a margin of 428 votes, Reid’s refrain became “never again.”

His groundwork, preparation and disciplined campaign allowed him to overcome conditions that would have been fatal to most politicians.

Of Reid, David Damore, a UNLV political scientist, said: “I’ve said it for a long time: Everyone else plays checkers; he plays chess.”

3. Don’t insult important segments of the electorate, such as women and Hispanics:

“Words to live by,” Democratic strategist Dan Hart deadpanned. “You shouldn’t do that.”

Angle’s campaign had a series of ads attacking Reid on illegal immigration that depicted Hispanics as criminals. She doubled down on the insult while talking to Hispanic youth at Rancho High School, saying some looked more Asian to her.

The result: Angle not only helped motivated a record Hispanic turnout, she lost the Hispanic vote by 38 points.

She lost women voters, too — by 11 percent, according to CNN exit polls — after she said she is against abortions even in the case of rape or incest and made a seemingly callous remark about making lemonade out of lemons.

4. Spend wisely:

Angle raised a staggering $14.3 million in the home stretch, an amazing accomplishment that left Democrats — at least initially — shaking in their boots.

But to raise that money, Angle’s campaign spent $12.1 million — an exorbitant amount, even by political campaign standards — leaving her with only about $2 million.

And what she had she spent poorly, strategists said. For example, the Angle campaign blasted people who had cast early votes with multiple mailers a day. A more focused ground game would have stretched their efforts, and dollars.

5. Don’t isolate yourself in a partisan echo chamber:

Angle has always run as an anti-establishment candidate, surrounded by a small cadre of trusted advisers who share her conservative beliefs.

Although she eventually involved more national campaign talent, she didn’t branch out much when it came to actually campaigning. She refused most mainstream media interviews and stuck to mostly conservative news outlets when she did grant interviews. She rarely released her schedule.

The strategy helped keep her from making more gaffes for Reid’s attack machine. But it also isolated her in a partisan echo chamber that might have left her tone deaf to the broader electorate.

6. Ignore public polling: Nevada’s always been a quirky place to poll, but this race underscored the unreliability of public polling data. Not a single public survey in the last two weeks of the campaign showed Reid leading, prompting speculation of a brewing recount and adding to the drama of Reid’s “surprise” win.

The only people who weren’t surprised Tuesday night were the Reid campaign and its pollster, which apparently had dead-on tracking numbers throughout, and Sun columnist Jon Ralston, who had blasted the polling methodology throughout the campaign.

Sun reporters J. Patrick Coolican and Delen Goldberg contributed to this story.

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