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September 22, 2021

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Obama and Reid are friends indeed

Their alliance boosts Reid’s reelection hopes and Obama’s ambitious agenda

Reid fundraiser

Leila Navidi

President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid embrace during a fundraiser at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in May 2009.

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Obama, Reid at Caesars (5-26-2009)

President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid embrace during a fundraiser at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

Obama arrives in Las Vegas

President Barack Obama salutes as he arrives at McCarran International Airport Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

Obama Arrives in Las Vegas

President Barack Obama arrived at McCarran International Airport Tuesday afternoon for a two-day stay in Las Vegas.

Prepared remarks

On a Wednesday in early February, Majority Leader Harry Reid stepped onto the Senate floor to announce that President Barack Obama had just accepted his invitation to return to Las Vegas.

The timing for such a rock-star get was superb. Days earlier Obama made the unscripted remark that companies receiving bailout money shouldn’t go to Las Vegas on the taxpayers’ dime, whipping city boosters into all shades of outrage.

Apologies were demanded. Deep concerns were raised over lost tourist dollars. Reid, as the top-ranking member of his state’s delegation in Washington, would need to say something.

Within 48 hours, Reid stepped into the fray with the calming promise that Obama would be visiting Nevada, paying his respect if you will, to a state that helped elect him by a wider margin than any Democrat since FDR.

Reid had the president’s back. And the president had Reid’s.

Such has been the mutually beneficial relationship between the two most powerful Democratic leaders in Washington as they forge a working bond unlike any in recent memory.

Nowhere was that symbiosis more apparent than Tuesday night at Caesars Palace as Obama made his promised return.

The president strode onto the stage before a sold-out crowd at the Colosseum at an event that raised close to $2 million for Reid’s 2010 reelection campaign.

Stars Sheryl Crow and Bette Midler sang a few songs each, but the top billing went to the president.

And when it came time to make a campaign stop for a member of Congress, Obama saved it for the man who escorts his ambitious policy agenda through the unruly Senate.

“In the last few years Harry has done an extraordinary job as leader of the U.S. Senate, and that’s not easy,” Obama remarked in his 20-minute speech. ”Harry has consistently fought on those issues that matter, not just to Democrats but to middle-class families ... He makes decisions and chooses battles based on the values he was raised with in Searchlight, Nev.

“That’s why we need to keep Harry Reid exactly where he belongs,” Obama said. “That’s why you are here tonight. I know you’ll be at the polls next November, making those phone calls and knocking on those doors, so Harry Reid can continue his service to this great state. That’s why I’m here tonight. I can’t bring the change I promised all by myself.”

In introducing the president, Reid said “I think we’re doing a pretty good job.”

To many, Obama and Reid seem the unlikely match — the president who speaks poetry that inspires the masses and the majority leader who puts them to sleep.

Yet the two share a history as sons of hard times. Early on, Reid pulled an unsure Obama aside in the Senate and encouraged him to run for president.

By fall’s election, they were speaking almost daily. When Reid needed to call candidates off the trail for important votes in the Senate, Obama was there.

A generation apart, the two men both employ an efficiency at work. They’re famously brief on the phone together, as Reid writes in his autobiography. At some point one wonders, who hangs up on whom?

But together they have engaged in a legislative sprint since Obama took office in January, moving bills at a pace that Washington has not seen in years.

The Senate is known as the place where legislation goes to die. If Obama’s ambitious agenda is to be enacted, it will be Reid’s job to see it through.

“They’ve had a great run,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes the Senate for the Cook Political Report.

The legislation so far: Equal pay for women. An expansion of children’s health insurance. The largest public lands bill in a generation. The massive economic recovery package. Housing help and credit card reform.

“The one thing Obama seems to appreciate, and I think Reid does, too, is political capital has a shelf life and you’ve got to use it or it’s going to expire,” Duffy said. “They don’t put anything on the back burner and deal with it later.”

Democrats know their electoral fate is tied to Obama’s fortunes, especially on turning the economy around. If the economy is humming by 2010, their reelection chances improve.

Perhaps the greatest test of the Reid-Obama alliance so far was in passage of the $800 billion economic recovery package — the signature bill of the early administration.

Reid and congressional Democrats secured an extremely delicate compromise in the face of nearly monolithic Republican opposition. Unlike House rules by which the majority reigns, one senator can hold up a vote. Reid’s expanded majority in the chamber means a more politically diverse caucus that can be difficult to unify.

Reid stayed until 11 the night of the stimulus vote, watching over the bill as the final vote was cast.

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University who studies Congress, said as Obama’s agenda moves forward into the more difficult terrain of energy and health care policy, the president will rely on Reid to bring as many players to the table as possible.

“It’s going to be really important to Obama to have as solid a Democratic majority behind him as possible,” Baker said. “This is a relationship of mutual convenience and mutual necessity.”

But leadership has taken its toll on Reid. Polling conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., for the Las Vegas Review-Journal shows his support among Nevadans has been slipping since he became the first highly critical Democratic leader during the Bush administration.

His approval rating sits at 38 percent now, no better than it did in November. More troubling, almost half those surveyed, 45 percent, said they’d like to replace him.

Reid knew back in 2004 — as his colleague Tom Daschle of South Dakota, then the majority leader, lost reelection — that he would need to prepare for the worst.

Reid built up the state party in Nevada, drawing the early presidential caucus to the state in 2008 that was a voter registration boom. The swing state had a 100,000-voter registration advantage for Democrats by Election Day.

But whether those Democrats will return in 2010 to vote for Reid remains unknown.

Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Reno, said Reid needs to shore up support among party ranks.

Indeed, 20 percent of Democrats surveyed in last week’s poll said they would vote to replace the majority leader. Another 19 percent said they would either consider voting for a challenger or weren’t sure to whom they would throw their support.

“The Democrats would be outright delusional to think every one of those new voters is first a Democrat and second an Obama voter,” Herzik said.

“Many of them are Obama voters who happened to register as Democrats,” Herzik said. “And Harry Reid knows that.”

To wit: In the November election, Obama won Washoe County by nearly 13 points while Democratic congressional candidate Jill Derby lost by less than 1 point.

The state Democratic Party hoped to maintain the infrastructure established by the Obama campaign, but results so far have been mixed.

Some of the campaign’s most active volunteers have expressed a sense of disappointment that the organization’s efforts to influence the state Legislature mostly fell flat.

Still, there are some bright spots: Many activists and volunteers remained active and transferred their energy to local races. More than 350 people attended an organizing convention for Reid’s campaign last month — a full 18 months before Election Day.

All of which makes the Obama visit important beyond civic pride.

As Herzik put it, Reid can bask in Obama’s “reflective glow.”

The take from the Caesars event will help build Reid’s $25 million war chest against a candidate who has not yet been determined.

One by one, potential Republican challengers have fallen by the wayside. One potential challenger, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, blames Reid for engineering an indictment over his handling of a state scholarship program while state treasurer — a claim Reid denies.

Among those potential candidates now being discussed is Republican Rep. Dean Heller, the former secretary of state in his second term in the House. Last week’s poll showed he is not widely known.

“If ever the axiom ‘you can’t beat somebody with nobody’ ever applied it was in Nevada in 2010,” Baker said.

Republicans insist they will have a candidate.

Until then, Obama and Reid will continue their mutually beneficial relationship.

Today the president will visit Nellis Air Force Base to discuss the economic recovery package, no doubt a shout out to his efforts to help the state — with Reid’s assist.

Duffy sees the benefits for both. “Choosing Nevada to celebrate the Hallmark holiday of 100 days of stimulus package,” she said, “is not a bad thing.”

Mascaro reported from Washington, D.C.

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