A loss is a loss, and all that matters on Election Day is that you get 50 percent plus one vote.
Despite those cliches, there are a few heartbreakers in the numbers, elections that went down to the wire and ended up so close, the winners must be feeling palpable relief, the losers questioning every move, wondering if they could have done something differently.
U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley lost her race by just 12,127 votes, out of more than 1 million cast statewide. The race was close all night, and even saw her ahead at one point. Berkley beat her Republican rival, Sen. Dean Heller, in Clark County by more than 60,000 votes, not nearly enough to overcome his lead in every other county in the state. In the end, she failed to execute the Democratic Path to Statewide Victory in Nevada: Massive turnout in Clark County, while holding down the Republican advantage in Washoe, if not winning the county outright.
(President Barack Obama won Washoe County again in a repeat of his 2008 performance, although he lose Carson City this time around.)
In state Senate District 5, former state Sen. Joyce Woodhouse won the right to return to Carson City by defeating ex-Henderson Councilman Steve Kirk. But Kirk lost by just 1,196 votes, a close margin that spoke to the quality candidate recruitment of Republican leader Michael Roberson.
(Roberson as recently as last week was confidently predicting a win in all five key Senate races, which would have made him majority leader come February. Alas, his brave declaration was not to be, albeit not for a lack of good candidates or healthy fundraising.)
It was even closer in Senate District 6, where two of the best candidates of the entire cycle — Democrat Benny Yerushalmi and Republican Mark Hutchison — fought an above-the-belt, issue-oriented campaign. (Outside groups, however, were not so kind, in attacking Yerushalmi.) In the end, Hutchison beat Yerushalmi by 901 votes.
And it was even closer in Senate District 9, where Democratic attorney Justin Jones saw a 301-vote victory over his Republican challenger, Mari Nakashima St. Martin. That race had gotten nasty over allegations that Jones had withheld information in a District Court case in which he was part of a team representing Las Vegas Sands, Inc. (Jones was handicapped in that he was unable to respond to the charges in detail because of attorney-client privilege.)
But the closest race in the bunch — and the most heartbreaking for Democrats — was former state Sen. Sheila Leslie‘s 266-vote loss to state Sen. Greg Brower. Leslie had made little secret of the fact that she was feeling burned out in her Legislative career, but nonetheless resigned her former seat to challenge Brower in his district. Her campaign was all the more important to Democrats, inasmuch as Brower is said to be contemplating a bid for attorney general in 2014, and a Leslie victory could have robbed him of momentum toward that goal.
Another loser: History. Democratic state Senate leader Mo Denis had said repeatedly that no Democrat with a 2.3-percentage-point advantage had ever lost a race in Nevada. But this election saw Yerushalmi lose (he had a 7.1-percentage-point advantage after the close of registration last month). And Woodhouse (5.4-point advantage), Jones (8.1-point advantage) won their races by far less than registration figures would indicate. By contrast, Leslie came a lot closer than Brower’s 1.2-point lead would have suggested.