On the morning of November 2, 2010, Sharron Angle appeared well-positioned to become the next US Senator from the state of Nevada. Numerous polls showed her holding a modest, but steady, lead over one of the most powerful men in the country. Grassroots conservatives across the country gleefully regarded her campaign as reflective of the national mood and expected it to represent a signature win of the burgeoning Tea Party movement. Politicos and journalists marveled at her staggering third quarter fundraising haul of $14 million – a figure that ballooned to a grand total of $28 million by the campaign’s conclusion. As Nevadans cast their ballots that Tuesday morning, Team Angle projected a quiet confidence.
Some volunteers and local staffers were so confident, in fact, that they broke from traditional campaign protocol and abandoned their get-out-the-vote efforts several hours before polls closed. Some were so assured of Angle’s victory that preparing for the lavish victory party at the Venetian Hotel took precedence. But as the results trickled in, the gathering’s festive atmosphere turned increasingly grim. A stunned hush fell over the throng when the verdict came in: Sharron Angle had lost, and it wasn’t even close.
How did this happen? In the immediate aftermath of Reid’s victory, Angle’s campaign staff grappled with the loss, cycling through the various stages of grief. Having reached the final point of acceptance, several conceded that Reid’s ground organization and overall strategy had been brilliant. The Reid operation’s execution — aside from the candidate’s dreadful performance in the lone debate — was virtually flawless. In the end, it may be that none of the potential GOP contenders in Nevada could have beaten Reid. His get-out-the-vote machine was top-notch, and his strategy was executed to perfection. According exit polls, 55 percent of Nevada voters disapproved of their senior senator’s job performance, yet he received over 50 percent of the roughly 700,000 votes cast.
Reid ran a great race, but another major problem plagued Team Angle: Competing factions and internal power struggles. For months, an open rift festered between two opposing camps, transforming the campaign into a model of dysfunction. On one side of the philosophical canyon were the candidate’s grassroots loyalists, who had catapulted Angle to her improbable primary victory. On the other was a small handful of professional Republican operatives who were hired to help run the general election effort. Former Angle staffers – nearly without exception – gave vent to myriad frustrations and grievances that accumulated over a period of four months. Although the campaign managed to maintain the public appearance of functionality and common purpose, behind the scenes, the campaign was at war with itself.