Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Harry Reid in Trouble

It’s hard to believe, but Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) might lose his seat in next year’s midterm elections. A recent poll saw him losing to either of the two Republicans who might emerge from a primary to take him on.

What happened to Reid? In part, his association with the Obama administration is likely hurting him. On every initiative, from the stimulus to healthcare reform, Reid is closely allied with Obama. Remember that Nevada has traditionally been a moderate-to-conservative state.

True, Nevada went for Obama in the 2008 election, by a surprising 55%-43% margin. But in 2000 and 2004, Nevada went for Bush. Prior to that, it went for Clinton twice in 1992 and 1996, but then for every Republican nominee since the 1964 election.

So by no means is Nevada an easy environment for a Democrat, particularly one identified with a liberal President. Midterm elections are usually referendums on the President and the party in power. And Obama and the Democrats’ approval ratings have fallen in recent months.

It is not unheard of for a party leader in the Senate to lose. For example, in 2004, Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), then Senate minority leader, lost his seat to Jim Thune.

None of this is to say that it’s hopeless for Reid. It’s not. He’s planning to spend $25 million on his reelection campaign, and bring in big guns like Obama to campaign for him (not sure how much this will help). More importantly, Nevada has more registered Democrats than Republicans. Now, many of these are more conservative, blue dog types. Still, there is a partisan advantage to be had.

And of course, the Republicans still have to go through a primary which could turn nasty. That could sap enthusiasm in the Republican grassroots, and deprive the eventual nominee of resources. I do expect the RNC to pitch in a fair bit of money though, as Reid would be quite a prize to knock off.

Going forward, Reid needs to work on turning out his base in large numbers and winning over the conservative Democrats who aren’t now backing him. He also needs to tout the benefits of having a Senate majority leader in terms of pork. Being able to point to specific projects which boosted the local economy would be helpful for wavering moderates worried about the economy. He can argue that a new Senator won’t be able to help Nevadans as much.

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