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The best campaign of the 2010 election

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ran the best campaign of the 2010 election. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Fix spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and talking about campaign politics.

Given that, we like to think of ourselves as connoisseurs of the political game -- we know what's good, what's bad and what's just plain odd.

And so, at the end of every election cycle we sort through the campaign that was and hand out a few awards for the best of the best.

We start our Fix superlatives today with the award for "Best 2010 campaign".

And the winner is: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid began the cycle with one foot in the political grave. He had the worst possible situation for a politician seeking reelection: he was both universally known and not at all well liked by Nevada voters.

Early attempts to change that dynamic by Reid weren't encouraging. Ads he ran touting his work to save jobs at City Center in downtown Las Vegas hurt more than they helped as Reid's standing in polls eroded even further.

If the positive phase of the Reid campaign wasn't particularly good, the negative end of it was a master stroke.

All successful politicians are a little -- or maybe more than a little -- lucky. And, Reid got lucky when former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle won the Republican nomination to face him back in June.

(Reid's campaign does deserve some credit for Angle's primary win as they spent months hammering former state Republican party chairman Sue Lowden -- the presumed frontrunner for the GOP nod -- over her now-infamous comment that healthcare would benefit from a bartering system.)

From the moment Angle officially won the Republican nomination, the Reid team began a systematic negative campaign against her that will go down in history as one of the best ever. Angle was constantly on defense in the fall -- trying to beat back Reid-generated stories about her comments on Social Security, Medicare and just about everything else.

The strategy reflected the simple reality of Reid's political predicament: his only chance to win the race was to turn it into a "devil you know versus the one you don't" choice for voters.

Reid was simply not going to get more popular in the course of the campaign. That's a hard pill for any politician to swallow -- people genuinely don't like me but I can win if they like my opponent less -- and, to the Nevada Senator's credit, he did so without complaint.

The end result was something almost no political observer -- the Fix included -- thought could happen: Reid didn't just win but took a majority of the vote.

For performing without error under a bright national spotlight and amid poll numbers that would have ended the career of 99 percent of politicians, Harry Reid wins the Fix's "Best Campaign of 2010" award.

(Want to read more on the Nevada Senate campaign? Make sure to check out Jon Ralston's piece on how Reid won -- must read stuff.)

Check out our runners-up after the jump and stay tuned to the Fix all week as we hand out other 2010 campaign superlatives.

Best 2010 Campaign Runners Up (in alphabetical order)

* Michael Bennet: Bennet, appointed to the Senate from Colorado in early 2009, had to win a grueling primary and general election. In the primary he overcame a surprisingly feisty challenge from former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff by methodically out-organizing his opponent. Like Reid, Bennet benefited in the general election from a candidate in Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck (R) who seemed not ready for primetime. Still, Bennet's team capitalized on Buck's miscues and effectively sold their man as part of the solution in Washington, not part of the problem.

* Ron Johnson: Johnson, a political neophyte making his first bid for elected office, proved to be a natural. He ran a campaign pitched perfectly to capture voters' desire for change. Johnson's whiteboard ads became so iconic -- and influential -- in the race that Sen. Russ Feingold (D) felt compelled to use a whiteboard of his own in one of his closing commercials. Too little, too late. Johnson won by five points.

* Rob Portman: Portman entered the Ohio Senate race with baggage -- and lots of it. As the former U.S. Trade Representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush Administration, Portman looked like a less than ideal candidate for Republicans. But, Portman did, literally, everything right: he vastly outraised and outworked Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) throughout 2009 and early 2010. The result? By the time average people started paying attention, the race was already over. Portman won by 18(!) points, a stunning reversal in a state President Obama carried by five points in 2008.

* Ted Strickland: The Ohio governor is the only losing candidate to make our list of the best campaigns of the cycle. Why? Because faced with a stalled economy and a national wave cresting on his party, Strickland managed to hang tough for the entirety of his race against former Rep. John Kasich (R). Strickland and his team effectively bashed Kasich as a tool of Wall Street -- he worked at Lehmann Brothers after leaving Congress -- and did everything they could to tell a positive story too. It wound up not being enough but it's hard to see what Strickland could have done differently or better to reverse that result.

* Pat Toomey: Democrats openly scoffed at the start of the cycle at the idea that Toomey could win a Senate race in Pennsylvania. After all, they noted, he wasn't the first choice of national Republicans -- that would be former Gov. Tom Ridge -- and had emerged as a stalwart conservative during his time as head of the Club for Growth. Toomey proved them wrong, running an incredibly disciplined campaign and, in so doing, threading a very tough electoral needle for Republicans in Pennsylvania.

* Scott Walker: Walker, who briefly entered the 2006 governor's race before dropping out, spent the next four years plotting his run in 2010. And, it showed. Brilliantly conceived from beginning to end, Walker cast himself as the everyman -- toting a brown bag lunch and driving a 1998 Saturn -- in a message that fit perfectly with the mood of the electorate who wanted something new. Walker easily beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D), who, himself, ran a very good campaign, by five points.

By Chris Cillizza  | November 15, 2010; 1:56 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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