A Reid too far?

Political players say the ‘dynasty’ issue worries voters

Rory and Harry Reid, father and son, will likely appear on the ballot together next year.

Rory and Harry Reid, father and son, will likely appear on the ballot together next year.

Left Photo By Dennis Myers right photo by David robert

Nevada Democrats last week got a foretaste of the complications that could ensue if they nominate two Reids for statewide office in 2010.

Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, who is running for governor, traveled to the nation’s capital where his father, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, holds forth these days as Senate Democratic leader. While he was in D.C., the younger Reid met with national political reporters who then cranked out some articles in which he came off second best.

Since the reporters naturally did not know the Nevada governor’s race issues, they asked him about issues that are on his father’s plate—health care and Afghanistan. The result was articles with headlines like “Rory Reid: I’m not running with my dad?” (Politico) and “Reids Running, But Maybe Not Together” (National Journal). The piece posted on the MSNBC website read in part:

“Reid ducked several national questions. On whether he would ‘opt out’ of the public option if the Senate health-care bill his father has written becomes law, he answered that he has no idea what the eventual health-care law would entail. ‘I’m not going to get into what the law might be.’ Regarding whether he supported President Obama’s troop increase to Afghanistan, Reid replied that he’s running for governor of Nevada, not federal office. ‘That policy is best left to the president.’ He also declined to talk about his father’s Senate race. ‘I think you should ask him to handicap his own race.’”

The National Republican Senate Committee quickly jumped on the stories, sending mailings to Nevada journalists. Though Rory Reid said nothing against his father in the press interviews, the GOP mailing was headed, “Not exactly a vote of confidence from Harry Reid’s own son.” And Las Vegas columnist Jon Ralston posted a piece headlined “Reids’ national media misadventures …” that said, “But the coverage of his chat with the bigfoot political media folks only served to highlight the possible toxicity for Democrats of having two Reids on the ballot, while concomitantly leaving The Younger and The Elder with a news cycle hangover.”

All this revived the issue of two Reids on the Nevada ballot that Rory Reid has preferred to ignore. It didn’t help that this adverse attention was coming just as Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman was floating one of his periodic trial balloons about deciding whether to run for governor on an independent line.

Most local observers say the issue is one that resonates not just with those involved with politics, but also with rank and file voters.

Nevada Democratic figure David Ward, a former political consultant, said he has seen polling on the two-Reid issue: “The polling that’s been done on it says that it hurts. … It hurts, and it’s significant.”

Truckee Meadows Community College political scientist Fred Lokken said, “It resonates. I can’t tell you the number of people who have raised it with me.”

Though Rory Reid is reported in news coverage to be reluctant to discuss the issue, he did talk about it in a recent RN&R interview.

“I’m happy to talk about it,” he said. “What I would say is that I love my father very much, probably more than anybody that’s talking about this. And if I believed that that [damage to Harry Reid’s candidacy] was the case, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. We’re not going to solve all our problems in Washington. We need to change the way Carson City does business. And I think I can do that. And I think that ultimately, people have to make a choice between two candidates, and they’re gong to vote for the candidate that they think has the ability and the vision to make fundamental change in Carson City. And I think that analysis will be made notwithstanding the candidates’ genealogy. I just think that this is a notion—you know, it’s interesting to talk about, but I don’t think there’s any empirical evidence that suggests that people make decisions that way. I think that people make decisions based on the two candidates in front of them. They’re going to pick the one they think is best.”

Since that interview, the polling may have provided the empirical evidence.

What possessed Reid to do interviews with national reporters in D.C. during his visit, since they would be virtually certain to focus on his relationship with his father? “He should have anticipated that,” Lokken said. And it was virtually a no-win situation. If he praised his father, it would make the two-Reid problem worse. If he didn’t, he would look like he was undercutting his father.

It’s not as though the issue wasn’t out there as a reminder. At the time of Reid’s D.C. trip, Las Vegas Weekly had a cover story on the Rory Reid campaign that included text by Stacy J. Willis like this:

“The largest challenge in Rory Reid’s quest for a distinguishable identity is the old man. Harry Reid is Nevada’s hardscrabble son, his name is in the thick of American politics, and his lean story is well-known: He grew up dirt poor in Searchlight and clawed his way to the top of the Democratic machine. One might imagine that having the U.S. Senate majority leader as dad would help one’s political career resoundingly, but it’s not without its drawbacks. The Reid name certainly helps with fundraising—a war chest rumored to be near $4 million with the help of the Clintons—and with diehard Dems. … But Harry’s polling is low lately in his reelection bid, and Rory is slowly trying to carve out a more moderate path for himself under his father’s reputation. It doesn’t help to have WashingtonPost.com writing about the potential ‘dynasty’ as negative for each of them, and outlets such as Wonkette.com calling them Nevada’s ‘own species of charmless desert Kennedy.’”

Ward said the issue now really isn’t whether there will be two Reids on the ballot. That’s all but assured, he said. The problem for the two campaigns now is to deal with the problem. “But that’s the way it’s going to be, so it just makes a difficult job a more difficult job from either one of their standpoints, I think,” he said.

Neither Ward nor Lokken consider it an insurmountable obstacle, though Lokken said Harry Reid’s campaign does not need one more problem to deal with. Ward said, referring to the elder Reid’s campaign fund, “With $26 million you can do a lot of educating.”

For Rory Reid the issue contains some especially hazardous elements. RN&R asked him, regarding his father’s reelection race, “If it’s a close race like it was Ensign and Reid [in 1998]—if it takes away 400 votes, and he loses by that much, how are you going to feel the day after the election?”

He replied, “I don’t think there’s any way to know that. The result will be what it is, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to explain to people why I should hold that office and leave it to them to make the decision. And I’ll accept it.”