Leila Navidi / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Jan. 15, 2010 | 2 a.m.
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- John Ensign to fellow Republicans: Back off Harry Reid (1-11-2010)
- GOP cites double standard, pressures Democrats over Harry Reid comments (1-11-2010)
- GOP chief: Harry Reid should step down over ‘no Negro dialect’ remark (1-10-2010)
- Harry Reid’s latest gaffe revealed when it could really hurt (1-10-2010)
- Harry Reid apologizes for ‘no Negro dialect’ remark about Obama (1-9-2010)
Donna Brazile had one thought last week when she first heard the news that Sen. Harry Reid had made some impolitic comments about President Barack Obama’s skin color and dialect: Who’s trying to set him up now?
Turns out, it was Reid himself. Famous for his indiscipline and candid — and cutting — style, the Senate majority leader’s racially tinged remarks further complicated his tough re-election fight in November. He apologized and Obama forgave him.
Brazile, former manager of Al Gore’s presidential campaign and one of the Democratic Party’s leading black strategists, did her part Thursday to turn the page on what she called “the apology business,” delivering an impassioned speech to about 400 of Reid’s black supporters in which she highlighted his long history of civil rights work, his legislation and his pivotal role in shepherding Obama’s agenda though Congress.
Backed by a panel of black spiritual and elected leaders at the Culinary Training Academy in North Las Vegas, she said the controversy needed no more explanation.
“We know racism,” Brazile said. “We have been through tough times but we also know our friends, and we know how to measure them and we know how to grade them, and he’s earned his high marks. In the bank of justice, he has a full account. Some people don’t even have an account.”
The crowd seemed to agree, applauding heartily and rising to offer ovations throughout Brazile’s speech. She spoke after a handful of prominent local black leaders took the stage in support of Reid, who was in New York promoting green jobs and energy development.
Although Reid’s campaign noted that Thursday’s event — dubbed African-Americans for Harry Reid and one in a line of constituency groups working for the senator’s re-election — had been planned for months. The timing, coming right before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, surely helps repair any damage to the senator’s reputation among a bloc of voters he will need to win re-election.
Besides, in an interview, Brazile said Reid has bigger troubles — the economy. Nevada has the highest foreclosure rate in the country and is tied with California and South Carolina for the third-highest unemployment rate.
As Reid courts black voters, he faces the grim reality that the recession has disproportionately hurt minorities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.9 percent of black men 20 and older were unemployed nationally in November. For all blacks ages 16 to 19, unemployment nationally approached a staggering 50 percent. On Thursday, a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute predicted that the jobless rate for Hispanics in Nevada could surpass 22 percent this year.
“The recession may have officially ended, but you can’t tell that to the people on Main Street,” Brazile told the Sun. “There’s a lot of anxiety out there across the board. People are worried sick that the worst is yet to come. And we have to do a better job of letting them know we are doing everything in our power to make sure the recession is finally over and most Americans can go back to work.”
She added, “It’s important to explain what’s been accomplished as well as the work ahead. Democrats will have to demonstrate these policies are effective and helping to alleviate the pain and suffering.”
As Reid’s campaign makes the argument that his position as Senate majority leader enables him to deliver for Nevada, his Republican opponents are using the post against him, saying it has distracted him from the troubles of his home state.
On Thursday, Sue Lowden, a former state senator and one-time chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party, highlighted a new report from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of Nevada showing that bankruptcies here rose nearly 60 percent in 2009 from a year earlier. She also pointed to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s rejection of Southern Nevada’s request for $367 million in stimulus money to help with foreclosures.
“Nevadans need a leader who will fight for us and our most pressing issues,” Lowden said in a statement. “This is another example of Harry Reid delivering for liberal interests in Washington over the people of Nevada.”
Reid is appealing to HUD’s top official to reconsider. His juice was on public display this month, first through financing he helped secure for long-sought-after transmission lines between Southern Nevada and White Pine County, then through stimulus money for McCarran International Airport’s new terminal.
Another challenge: Brazile said the sweeping effect of the recession had changed the political landscape of off-year elections, which tend to draw low voter turnout — making each party’s base crucial. This year, Reid — and Democrats in general — must work to win over independent voters, who, after two cycles of Democratic sympathies, are trending Republican. The number of independents here has grown by 25 percent since Reid’s last election.
“This will be more of a national election with a local taste to it,” Brazile said. “And independents remain the missing ingredient in every election stew I’ve come to analyze.”
Thursday, however, was about cleaning up messes and solidifying the base.
Debra Pope, who heads a nonprofit organization, said she was energized by the event and moving beyond Reid’s gaffe. “We are informed now,” she said, “and we are not going back.”