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November 27, 2014

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As Senate Republicans gain momentum, ‘Fire Harry Reid’ campaign grows louder

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 15, 2014, during a news conference about competing bills from the Democrats and Republicans on employee health coverage and birth control under the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Harry Reid is not running for re-election, but Republicans are turning up the volume on a new campaign slogan to “Fire Harry Reid.”

With momentum recently swinging to their side to take back the Senate in November, the Republican National Committee is sending out a memo to reporters and donors today daring Democrats in tough re-election campaigns to distance themselves from the Senate leader. The committee launched the anti-Reid campaign in late July with robocalls and a social media push, #FireReid.

The strategy is to paint Reid, the Senate majority leader, as the boogeyman, especially for voters in Republican-leaning states with contested Senate races that could decide the future of the Senate, said Michael Short, an RNC spokesman.

“He’s not a very popular figure, he’s the face of Senate Democrats,” Short said.

Kristen Orthman, a Reid spokeswoman, said Republicans are attacking Reid because he calls them out for not helping get legislation passed. Reid also said on the Senate floor in May that Republicans’ attacks against him are a sign nothing else is working.

“They are getting desperate for something to change their tune,” said Reid, who engineered his own boogeyman strategy this campaign season to go after Republican mega-donors Charles and David Koch.

Striking at the top is a campaign strategy as old as politics itself. Most recently, Republicans targeted Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who was then the speaker, in 2010 when they took back the House of Representatives.

But Reid may not have enough name recognition to motivate voters to oust their Democratic senator in November.

An April Gallup poll found 32 percent of respondents had never heard of Reid, while 41 percent viewed him unfavorably. (The poll noted that all four congressional leaders, the top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, have high unfavorable ratings.)

“No one knows who the guy is,” said David Damore, a political science professor at UNLV.

For that reason, Damore said the slogan strikes him as “a little strange.”

UNR political science professor Erik Herzik echoed Damore’s skepticism.

“I don’t see a middle-of-the-road voter saying, ‘Yes, I want to go vote for the Republicans because I don’t like Harry Reid,’” he said.

But when national headwinds are blowing your way, as several major analyses such as The New York Times' indicate they are for Senate Republicans, Damore said it’s Campaign 101 to make the upcoming election a national referendum. And this year, Reid seems to be their guy.

Short said the goal is to give Reid name recognition — in an unflattering light.

“Part of the Fire Reid campaign is to elevate and define Reid for voters, to make our case that the dysfunction in Congress rests at his feet,” he said.

In 81 days, voters will find out whether that strategy worked.

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