Harry Reid enjoys advantages, even while down in polls

The U.S.S. Harry Reid is doing everything right, if it can control its self-assurance

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has all the resources he needs to win reelection, say professional campaign consultants, except favorable opinion surveys.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid has all the resources he needs to win reelection, say professional campaign consultants, except favorable opinion surveys.


On Monday, Sharron Angle, the only Republican running against U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, put out a news release attacking Reid for supporting “cap and trade,” under which caps are established for carbon dioxide emissions in a region, and companies that reduce their emissions more than required can sell their unused emission credits to those over the caps. It’s a technique that has been successful in reducing sulphur emissions since 1990.

On the same Monday, Democrat Reid was holding a news conference with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in Las Vegas to promote development of solar energy in Nevada and the West.

This happened a day after a story in the Las Vegas Sun reported that GOP leaders were begging U.S. Rep. Dean Heller to jump into the race against Reid.

It was a sample of the way Reid’s reelection campaign is running so far—he was in a pro-environment posture against an anti-environment Republican at a time when GOP leaders were very publicly undercutting Angle by desperately begging stronger candidates to get into the race. Reid got to engage in governance while the Republicans flaunted their disarray.

Nevada opinion surveys are showing Reid in the mid-30s, which actually represents a gain for him—at one point he was in the mid-20s, along with Gov. Jim Gibbons—but they are surveys that are almost meaningless until pollsters can put a name in the slot opposite Reid’s. Those surveys are basically approval rankings, not campaign match-ups, yet many journalists are giving them enormous weight.

When Reid faces a flesh-and-blood Republican with his or her own baggage and more resources and party support than Angle, polls will start meaning more. Once Reid has an opponent, his own assets come into play, and the assets or liabilities of an opponent will also be fodder for the campaign.

“Sometimes the polls at this time are more barometers about frustrations with the economy and other problems the government is dealing with than they are specific to the race,” said political scientist Fred Lokken at Truckee Meadows Community College. “But once there is a face on the other side, the senator has a chance to use his own well organized campaign and other advantages. Once you have the declared candidate with experience or the lack of experience, it becomes a different race.”

If Heller, for instance, got into the race, he would bring a considerable amount of baggage with him, particularly in urban areas where most of the state’s voters reside.

“Dean has a voting record and not a good environmental record,” said one Republican political consultant. “That works for his House seat, but it creates enormous problems for him [statewide].”

The notion expressed by Lokken that hostility to Reid is partly free-floating concern about the economy may have been neatly illustrated by a photo that illustrated the Sun story. It showed a home in Elko with an elaborate mini-billboard in the front yard: “ELECT ANYONE BUT HARRY REID.” Also in that home’s front yard was a smaller sign: “FOR SALE BY OWNER.”

Then there’s the fact that such photos—if they are meant to typify voter sentiment—distort the real campaign playing field: Elko (the county, not just the city) makes up just 1.8 percent of the state’s population, and Reid originally got elected to the Senate by carrying one county.


Just as discouraging for Republican candidates is that, in federal campaign terms, it’s already almost too late to get into the race.

If Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, under indictment for misusing state funds, were to be exonerated today and jump into the race, he would have a difficult time raising enough money to compete with Reid. A July start is very late, particularly when Reid himself has locked up some of the big GOP givers. Lokken thinks there’s a chance of doing it, but just barely.

“There is, but frankly they’re already behind, and normally one would look to the party and especially the national party for funds, and that’s not as easy as it once was. The state party is having its set of problems, and so is the national party.”

Being competitive with the $10 million-plus already raised by Reid would mean raising more than $128,000 a week until the November 2010 election. Even if a candidate put the race together now, it’s likely that a large percentage of the money would have to come from outside the state, which would neutralize the issue of Reid’s own national dollars. Reid has closed off many GOP money sources in the state. Indeed, the co-chair of his “Republicans for Reid” group is Sig Rogich, who has a lot of experience in “anointing” favored candidates by shutting off money to their prospective opponents.

One thing going for the Republicans is that Reid has already spent 43 percent of the money he has raised. But how much satisfaction they can take from this is uncertain, since it was used on putting his campaign in the field—something a Republican candidate would have to do by starting from scratch.

Reid’s surveys could also improve as his standing in D.C. improves. After a period of harsh criticism, he is starting to get better reviews for his stewardship of the Senate, particularly for his cultivation of bipartisanship. The New York Times last week observed, “Overcoming capricious delays is not easy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to his credit, has begun to do that. Last week, he gathered 62 votes, including five Republicans, to confirm Harold Koh as legal adviser to the State Department, after a delay of six weeks.”

Reid even won praise from Gov. Jim Gibbons this week for his “efforts to encourage renewable energy production,” though the wording of Gibbons’ news release is somewhat snide—“Hopefully, Sen. Reid can fulfill his promises to reduce the federal bureaucracy and red tape for renewable energy projects”—and the value of support from the governor is uncertain in any event.

One of Reid’s biggest problems right now is that he and his campaign have taken on a certain smugness of tone over their commanding position, the kind of Gray Davis-type attitude that made California activists start circulating recall petitions the day after Davis was reelected against a weak Republican. While Reid doesn’t have to worry about that happening—recall is not generally believed to apply to federal offices—such an attitude could create exactly the kind of climate in which an underfunded, little known candidate like Angle or Carson City’s Mark Amodei would thrive.

Some of Reid’s supporters want him to start acting less like the self-assured captain of the Titanic.

“I’ve asked them to tone it down,” said one of the Republicans for Reid members. “We could use a little humility—visible humility.” The italics were in the tone of voice.