Las Vegas Sun

January 21, 2018

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Why there’s hope for Reid: Nevada isn’t South Dakota

At least two pundits misread the majority leader’s challenge

Some analysts see similarities in the situations of then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, pictured, who was defeated in 2004, and Nevada's Sen. Harry Reid this year.

Some analysts see similarities in the situations of then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, pictured, who was defeated in 2004, and Nevada's Sen. Harry Reid this year.

Sun Topics

Sun Topics

Beyond the Sun

Two normally savvy observers weighed in on Sen. Harry Reid’s electoral prospects, and both were, well, sort of wrong.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza sums up what he calls “Harry Reid’s Dilemma”:

“The fundamental dilemma that Reid faces — how to carry Obama’s agenda effectively while also appealing to Nevada voters to whom that agenda is too liberal — is quite similar to the puzzle that (Tom) Daschle tried (and failed) to solve six years ago, however.”

This Daschle analogy is a favorite of the national press, though why this is so is increasingly obscure. Daschle, then the Democratic Senate minority leader, was beaten in 2004 because his home state of South Dakota is quite conservative — of 500,000 voters there that year, just 191,523 of them were Democrats, and 238,580 of them were Republicans. Plus, 2004 was a big Republican year.

Also, Rep. John Thune, who beat Daschle, was until 2002 the state’s only congressman. In other words, he was as known to voters as Daschle himself.

Now let’s look at Nevada.

Nevada was once a conservative state, and that’s when the Daschle analogy would have made sense. But Cillizza glosses over the single most significant fact of Nevada’s recent political history: Obama’s crushing 12.5-percentage-point victory here last year.

Cillizza: “While Obama carried the state by 12 points in 2008, George W. Bush won it — albeit narrowly — in 2004 and, aside from Clark County (Las Vegas), the state is populated with conservative-minded voters who are more likely to disagree than agree with the direction that Obama (and Congressional Democrats) are taking the country.”

The key phrase here is “aside from Clark County.” Well, that’s 70 percent of the state’s population. And most of the state’s Democrats.

It’s like saying Utah is secular, aside from the Mormons.

Democrats’ registration advantage of nearly 100,000 voters has held steady since last year, when, again, Obama won by his crushing victory.

Why are we to believe that all those Obama voters would prefer that Reid work to thwart Obama’s agenda? If anything, many of those voters are probably irritated that Reid hasn’t been more aggressive in advancing that agenda — in other words, voters to the left of Harry Reid, not to the right.

Although it’s true Obama’s favorable number has trended downward, according to a recent Review-Journal poll, he’s still net positive.

Another difference from South Dakota: None of Reid’s challengers has any of the chops of a Thune.

The bottom line: Harry Reid’s problem is neither his party label nor his close link to Obama and his policies.

So is Reid a shoo-in next year?

That’s what Markos Moulitsas thinks. Moulitsas is the proprietor of the big liberal blog Daily Kos, and though he’s obviously a partisan, he’s also known for his hard-boiled political analysis.

In a post titled “Why Harry Reid will Survive. Easily,” he links to recent reporting by the Sun’s David McGrath Schwartz showing the Democrats’ registration edge and the Republicans’ lackluster effort so far — their monthly additions trail minor parties such as the hard-right Independent American Party.

Except, a big registration advantage is no guarantee of success, or vice versa.

“Party registration is no guarantee,” said Michael McDonald, a George Mason University political scientist who is an expert in voter behavior.

Mayor David Dinkins lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1993 even though Republicans are about as common as country bars in New York City.

Here’s the real situation with Reid:

“It’s all about economics,” McDonald said. Although Democratic fortunes may be looking slightly better nationally as the economy has begun to shows signs of recovery, it’s not recovering here, at least not in the short term.

September foreclosure filings, down nationwide, increased 5 percent in Nevada, to 18,766. Unemployment, now at 13.2 percent, is expected to keep rising.

You can bet voters will be looking to take it out on someone, and that someone is Reid, who is head of his party and viewed as the senior elected official in Nevada.

Aside from the economy, Reid has another problem.

For all his mastery of the backroom deals that keep the upper chamber humming, Reid’s public persona is, as the Sun described it once, “aggressively uncharismatic.”

That’s not likely to change.

Contra Moulitsas, Reid is in trouble, just not for the reason Cillizza thinks.