The news that failed Senate candidate Sharron Angle is running for the Republican nomination for Nevada’s Senate seat once again must bring back unwelcome memories for Republican strategists. The facts behind Angle’s 2010 defeat offer a cautionary tale for Republicans in 2016, when Donald Trump is threatening to do nationally what Angle did in Nevada in 2010. In fact, the parallels between the Harry Reid/Sharron Angle Senate contest in 2010 and the potential Democrat v. Donald Trump presidential race in 2016 are striking. The Reid/Angle 2010 Senate race highlights how Latinos and other pro-immigrant voters can be mobilized in historic numbers by the combination of an extreme, anti-immigrant Republican and a Democratic candidate who leans into the issue of immigration and makes a real investment in engaging and turning out the voting community.
In 2010, a year in which Republicans won big at nearly every level, Nevada – along with Colorado and California – provided a “Latino firewall” for Democrats and helped them save the Senate.
Nevada’s Republican Senate nominee, Sharron Angle, ran one of the most aggressively and blatant anti-immigrant and anti-Latino campaigns in recent memory – including ads that combined shots of Latinos with tattoos on their faces and images of scared white women. In contrast, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) leaned into the immigration issue, invested heavily in Latino and Asian-American voter mobilization efforts, and managed to overcome the predictions about his vulnerability by many national pundits and pre-election pollsters to win by a healthy margin of nearly six percentage points.
As Senator Reid himself said, “I would not be the majority leader in the United States Senate today, but for the Hispanics in Nevada.” In fact, Reid won Latino voters by a whopping 90%-8% margin, according to 2010 election eve polling of Latino voters in Nevada conducted by Latino Decisions. According to the election eve polling, immigration was a major mobilizing issue in the 2010 contest: 88% of Nevada Latino voters said immigration was important to their vote, with 38% saying it was “the most important” issue. Angle’s virulent anti-immigrant campaigning also made the issue a personal one for many Latino voters – as a good example, The Las Vegas Sunquoted Gilberto Ramirez, a first-time, recently-naturalized voter from Reno, explaining why Sharron Angle’s anti-Latino ads motivated him to vote and to support Senator Harry Reid: “She was depicting me as a gang member. I served seven years in the Marine Corps.”
In 2016, the same dynamics will be at play in Nevada, should Angle capture the Republican nomination over current front runner Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV). Yet the cautionary tale of Angle’s candidacy extends well-past Nevada during a 2016 election cycle in which Donald Trump is the GOP frontrunner.
As an outsider Republican candidate running on an incendiary, anti-immigrant and anti-Latino platform, Donald Trump shares more than a passing similarity to Sharron Angle. Like Angle in 2010, Trump’s potential to inflame fast-growing groups of voters against his candidacy should worry Republicans (For more, read this new analysisfrom demographer Ruy Teixeira per Greg Sargent at the Washington Post and check out the Latino Decisions’ estimate that the GOP nominee will need to win between 42-47% of Latinos to win the 2016 presidential popular vote, given the expected increase in the number and share of Latino voters and the likely composition of the rest of the 2016 general electorate). Latino voters already view Trump as toxic, with a recent Washington Post/Univision poll of Latino voters found that 80% of Latinos have an unfavorable opinion of Trump, with 72% saying “very unfavorable.”
However, the other big lesson from the Nevada 2010 Senate contest is for Democrats. Harry Reid’s re-election was made possible not just by the extreme anti-immigrant candidacy of Angle, but also by a dedicated effort by Reid and his campaign to lean into pro-immigrant policies and to prioritize the engagement and mobilization of Latino, Asian-American, and pro-immigrant voters.
According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, “Sharron Angle is a walking example of how Republicans can lose battleground races by running on an extreme, anti-immigrant platform. As Harry Reid’s re-election race in 2010 demonstrates, Latinos and other pro-immigrant voters can be mobilized and provide the margin of victory by a combination of Republican extremism and Democratic engagement with the community. Unfortunately for the GOP, in 2016 they are already the Trump Party. Angle’s entry into the Nevada Senate race is just another reminder of how far the GOP has not come.”