Harry Reid: An Incumbent, a Democrat, and a Party Leader -- But He Managed to Win the Election

The polls weren't wrong. The Democrats took a beating on Election Day 2010. Late into the day, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, angrily rejected claims based on projections that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team would be swept out of power. Van Hollen was wrong: Fairly early in the evening it was clear the GOP would zoom past the 218 seats needed to take control of the House and win a comfortable cushion in addition.

Florida will have a new Cuban-American US Senator, Marco Rubio. New Mexico will have the first Latina governor, Susana Martinez. Texas will likely have a Mexican-American Republican member of Congress, Quico Canseco, who beat veteran incumbent Ciro Rodriguez in the vast border district that snakes east along the Rio Grande from the outskirts of El Paso, Texas. Former Federal Court Judge Brian Sandoval, also a Republican, will become the first Latino governor of Nevada (beating Harry Reid's son, Rory, by a convincing margin).

The networks have projected Jerry Brown the winner in the California governor's race, after his opponent Meg Whitman spent more than $100 million of her own money trying to jump start a political career after an adult life in business. Polling approaching Election Day saw Brown getting the biggest share of the state's big Latino vote, after Whitman's shifting stories about her undocumented housekeeper neutralized her enormous spending on Spanish media.

I spent Election Day in Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was fighting for his political life against Republican nominee and former state legislator Sharron Angle. Senator Reid, an old fashioned political technician, is not very popular in Nevada. Even as voters sent him back to Washington for another six years they were telling pollsters they don't like him very much or approve of the job he's doing for them. Sometimes in politics you get lucky with the other side's choice of an opponent. So even though it was a terrible year for incumbents, for Democrats, for the party establishment, and party leaders, Reid won even though he was all those things.

A big part of his strategy involved making Latino voters one of the foundation stones of a winning coalition. The state's population is just under a quarter Latino, and Reid gambled that driving turnout in the community would build a wall against Angle's passionate anti-Washington voters. The state Democratic Party emphasized races down the ballot, for State Assembly and State Senate, and steered funding to political novices in strongly Latino districts.

Ruben Kihuen, a naturalized Mexican-born member of the State Assembly decided to make a run for the state senate, and a young Mexican-American woman was slated to run for his old seat. Nevada Democrats reasoned that since minority voters tend to drop off in turnout during non-presidential election years, turnout could be driven by giving minority communities candidates they could get behind.

But the Reid get-out-the-vote effort didn't end there. He has been a friend and supporter for the casino industry, and the unions that fill the thousands of casino jobs on the world famous Strip. For once, management and labor were on the same side: both strongly supported Reid's re-election, and the casino owners filled buses with their workers and sent them to polling places for the state's two weeks of early voting.

Assemblyman Kihuen said a Latino vote over 12% of the total makes Reid a winner. The exit polls aren't in yet... but Reid may now be under increased pressure to follow through on his strong and early promises to introduce comprehensive immigration reform in the next Congress. Even if it's a Congress with a much larger Republican presence. Sharron Angle's harsh campaign ads called Harry Reid "the best friend illegal aliens ever had." It will be interesting to see how well the Senator remembers his Latino constituents when he heads back to Washington.

So all in all, an interesting set of results for a community courted heavily in races across the country. The table is well set for a 2012 race that will see Latinos continue their long march to full political participation in the life of the United States. Stay tuned. Fascinating times are ahead.