by Natasha Vargas-Cooper
By the time Sharon Angle conceded to returning Senator Harry Reid, well past midnight, her victory party at the Venetian’s ballroom had thinned out to a couple hundred diehards: bleary staffers, despondent volunteers, long-time (Republican) party contributors. Noticeably absent were the tea partiers. At the beginning of the night and throughout the campaign, they were easy to spot: they are a dustier sort of Republican, outfitted in jeans, zany political shirts and always gripping signs with slogans like “Trust God Not Government.” After the Las Vegas Sun called the race in favor of Reid at 9:43 p.m., nearly all had disappeared. Except one.
Right as Angle came to the center of the stage, her nose and eyes visibly reddened, a pot-bellied man with heavy-metal length hair and a homemade shirt that read “MAN UP, HARRY REID,” jumped on stage from the audience and plopped himself right next to Angle’s husband. He rocked back and forth on his heels, smiling at the crowd, looming behind Angle throughout her entire speech, while campaign workers and family continued to shoot him uneasy glances.
Everyone surrounding Angle seemed uneasy. That’s the national dilemma of the Republican party now: a long entrenched establishment confronted by a startling and brazen element willing to seize the stage.
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You had to ascend to the Angle celebration room by way of four separate escalators. You pass a Barneys, a Swarovski kiosk and an oxygen bar where patrons can pay 20 dollars to sniff air. If you have ever been to the Vatican, then you know what the inside of the Venetian looks like. It is a cathedral of opulence: one is dwarfed under its giant vaulted cellings that drip with golden chandeliers. Botticelli-”style” paintings adorn the walls; gleaming marble floors that are fit for a Pope. Or a Medici.
I rode up with a married retired couple from Henderson, the middle class suburb outside of Las Vegas. She was a pigeon-toed woman in cheap sneakers and he had on a beaten up MARINES hat. They had donated $100 to the Angle campaign and had put three signs up on their lawn. Both wore baggy “ANGLE FOR SENATE” t-shirts over their clothes. Their animated conversation about the prospects of an Angle victory petered out by the third escalator.
Here they were confronted with realtors, corporate attorneys, pharmaceutical reps — the men who will be attending these parties, win or lose, for several more election cycles to come. This lot does the routine booing and cheering for their candidates but never rise to their feet unless it’s to greet each other. When it became clear that Angle had lost, it was they who stuck around just to bullshit and drink with pals for the next several hours.
Maybe they hung out and got loose to commiserate or maybe it was because they were relieved.
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In the Nevada Senate race, both parties ran loser candidates. The Republicans backed Sharron Angle: a loopy state senator who rattled off outlandish reactionary positions in a cynical (or delusional) ploy to exploit the paranoia and frustration of conservative voters who feel the current administration is a failure. It’s beguiling that a fringe candidate like Sharron Angle could come as close as she did to unseating the Senate Majority Leader.
Then there’s Harry Reid, the very prototype of a calcified, gray-faced, middling politician, who out of fear (or calculation) opted for the championing the status quo instead of offering a populist alternative to a state filled with economic despair. The two spent the past several months fighting a war of attrition against the other, each party attempting to grind down and exhaust the opponent. Tonight’s race ended with a clear victor, though no leader has yet to emerge.
Natasha Vargas-Cooper has more pictures here.