Reiding the riot act

Every time a presidential election year starts drawing near, Iowa and New Hampshire become sensitive to slighting comments about their privileged first-in-the-nation status, caucuses in Iowa and a primary in New Hampshire.

Last week, was U.S. Sen. Harry Reid who got their hackles up. Nevada has third-overall-in-the-nation status with its caucuses, followed by the South Carolina primary in fourth place.

It started at a Washington Post event where Reid said, “I have been a student of government for a long, long time, and I was always terribly upset about how we were choosing our presidents. You go to New Hampshire. There aren't any minorities there. Nobody lives there. You go to Iowa, and there are a few people there. But again, it is a place that does not demonstrate what America is all about, for a lot of different reasons. Nevada does that. We are a state that has represented what America's all about. And I think that bringing in South Carolina, bringing in Nevada, makes a better process for choosing a president.”

That prompted the New Hampshire Union Leader to begin its coverage with this lead: “Nevada, land of casinos and legal prostitution, ‘demonstrates what America is all about' more than the first-in-the-nation primary state, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Monday night.”

Gov. Maggie Hassan provided a quote for the story: “Senator Reid's disparaging comments about New Hampshire are as insulting as they are wrong, and an apology would certainly be appropriate. Our first-in-the-nation primary is a cherished responsibility for Granite Staters—a responsibility we hold because we invented it, and because we do it exceptionally well. I will always fight alongside Secretary [of State William] Gardner to protect the New Hampshire primary.” (In the Union Leader, the words in the phrase “first in the nation” were capitalized, sort of the way the San Francisco Chronicle describes its city as The City, and USA Today shoehorns the USA acronym into every story it can.)

The fever rose a little more when New Hampshire Republican chair Jennifer Horn offered advice to the Democratic governor, who is running for U.S. Senate after being recruited by Reid. “The governor should immediately demand that Harry Reid remove his ads supporting her candidacy and tell his Washington political machine to stay out of our Senate race,” Horn said in a prepared statement. “The importance of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary goes beyond politics, and Governor Hassan's continued reliance on his political support to advance her career says more than her transparent and politically-motivated call for an apology.”

In Las Vegas before the Democratic presidential debate, Reid responded: “New Hampshire is heavily populated and loaded with a lot of minorities,” he said to laughter from reporters. “My apologies.”

As an apology, that rang something less than sincere and prompted Iowa to be heard from, in the form of a Des Moines Register story—one that lacked the Union Leader's home state chauvinism.

“I just said there aren't many minorities in Iowa,” Reid told the newspaper.

“I'm satisfied with [Iowa going first],” he added.

The newspaper sought a better sense of what he felt about Iowa going first, and he replied, “We can't change that. I just think it's important that there be four involved—not just Iowa and New Hampshire, because I don't think New Hampshire and Iowa are representative of America.”

There was one bit of actual news in all this—a Freudian pause when Reid was discussing what will happen in the 2016 election. At one point, Reid said that Nevada would be “a heavily Democratic state for us come Hillary time—or, whoever wins the primary.”