Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Harry Reid is living in a fairy tale.
If you are a supporter, he is a brave prince, grievously wounded but still capable of frightening anyone who dares challenge his kingdom, standing tall against all odds. If you are an opponent, he is an evil sorcerer, possessed of a mysterious necromancy, able to create amazing alchemies that turn fearsome congressmen into stay-at-home men.
With news this week that Rep. Dean Heller will not challenge Reid, the national Republicans were left with half-hearted shibboleths that went something like this: Heller was an excellent candidate but there are others who can defeat the vulnerable Senate majority leader.
It may not be apres Heller le deluge. But, truth be told, the GOP now is left with Snow White (state Chairwoman Sue Lowden) and a passel of dwarves. And that may be a charitable description because the collection of potential candidates looks like that “Star Wars” bar, with an odd assortment of aliens including rabid talk-show hosts, some rich guys who probably can’t pronounce Nevada and, of course, Little Tark, who is capitalizing on a family name, a libel verdict and Reid’s vulnerability to make his third run for office.
Fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you. You can go to extremes with impossible schemes — such as destroying a potentially formidable foe (state Sen. Joe Heck) with a wind-up doll or helping an ex-congressman (Jon Porter) find a cushy lobbying job. It’s hard to hold Reid’s black magic responsible for another factor here — the John Ensign scandal that, as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza pointed out, has been “extremely damaging to the Republican brand in the state.”
I am sure that National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn was cursing Ensign’s name Tuesday with a passion the C Street boys reserve for their mistresses. But the GOP brand here, thanks to The Man Formerly Known as Governor and a virtually nonexistent party structure, already was blackened.
And your life gets more exciting with each passing day … as top-tier candidates simply fade away.
I don’t doubt there was a personal calculus here — there always is and Heller made the final decision after a family vacation. “It’s probably a better personal decision than a political decision,” the congressman said. I don’t simply discount that stuff the way my cynical media brethren and political insiders reflexively do.
But the political factors here also argued against the congressman running and have for some time.
Heller may believe Ensign is so weakened that the GOP senator will resign or not run and that seat will be his. Unless Ø is completely insane (please insert joke here) and were to appoint himself in the event of an Ensign resignation, Heller surely would be the leading contender. And if Ensign, as many believe, doesn’t run in 2012, Heller has to be the favorite.
Heller also may have correctly calculated that waiting for Ensign’s seat, either through appointment or campaign, is a better bet, even if he had a 9-point lead over Reid (as one poll said), was preferable to running against a man who will raise $25 million and who thinks scorching the earth is political climate change he can believe in. (In his statement after Heller receded, Reid asserted, “Our families have been friends for many years, and regardless of his decision, that wouldn’t have changed.” And not one person who knows the senator believed him.)
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams ... or if you are a Republican, you can hope Snow White shows Prince Harry whose fairy tale this really is. Lowden has been testing the waters since last weekend, right after Danny Tarkanian announced he would challenge Reid. Little Tark later would mangle FDR’s most famous quote, telling a small crowd at his house, “Like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, fear ... we only fear ourselves in what we’re stating.”
The only thing Sue Lowden has to fear is fear itself — but fear itself in Nevada politics is otherwise named Harry Reid. She is not nearly as strong a candidate as Heller, but Lowden would have a chance, especially if the economy and the president’s numbers continue southward. But if she opts not to run, I can’t wait to hear the GOP spinmeisters try to sell any of the dwarves as credible against Reid — the David and Goliath fairy tale doesn’t work here.
Fairy tales can come true … it could happen to you … for as rich as you are it’s much better by far to be young at heart.
Actually, in this world, it’s better to be rich with campaign cash, be feared as an evil sorcerer and be blessed with inept opposition.
Jon Ralston hosts the news discussion program “Face to Face With Jon Ralston” on Las Vegas ONE and publishes the daily e-mail newsletter “RalstonFlash.com.” His column for the Las Vegas Sun appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Ralston can be reached at 870-7997 or at [email protected]