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Why Obama’s speech may be unofficial launch of Reid’s re-election campaign

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AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stands next to a sign stating the number of days since the Senate passed immigration reform legislation, Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

When President Barack Obama stands on the stage at a Las Vegas high school today and rallies support for his immigration policies, Sen. Harry Reid will be right by the president's side.

And he wants to make sure you know it.

This past week, Nevada's senior senator has hosted press conferences, given speeches and blasted emails and tweets about his support for the president's action to delay deportations and prosecution for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.

"It's not about Democrats versus Republicans, or Republicans versus the president," Reid said Thursday. "It's about real families who are torn apart."

All signs point to Reid running for a sixth term in the U.S. Senate in 2016, and today could serve as the unofficial launch of his campaign.

With an immigration reform bill stuck in Congress for more than a year and a half, Obama announced Thursday he's taking action himself. He'll sign those policies today at a rally at Del Sol High School.

Standing on stage with Obama, Reid will present himself as an extension of those policies. The moment could serve as the Senate Democratic leader's re-introduction to an important voting bloc in Nevada.

"I mean, if you weren't confident Reid was running for re-election yet ..." said Andres Ramirez, a former Reid staffer and prominent Hispanic advocate in Las Vegas.

Reid needs Hispanic support to win a sixth term. The Washington Post called Reid one of the Senate's most endangered Democrats in 2016: His approval ratings in the state hover around 40 percent, and he's 10 points behind a hypothetical matchup against Nevada's popular Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, who is Hispanic.

Hispanics make up about a third of Nevada's population and 16 percent of its eligible voters — possibly up to 20 percent by 2016. But they failed to show up to the polls in the midterm elections just a few weeks ago, and it was an abysmal election for Democrats in Nevada and across the nation.

Hispanic voters' apathy could be attributed in part to dashed hopes for immigration reform.

Back in January 2013, a freshly re-elected Obama came to Del Sol High School to lay out his wishlist for an immigration reform bill in Congress.

Such a bill passed the Reid-led Senate in June 2013, but it's been stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Obama said this year he planned to act on his own but delayed anything until after the midterm elections.

Now, though, the president is acting. And he's doing it in Reid's backyard.

"It kicks off Harry Reid's 2016 campaign nicely," Robert Uithoven, a Nevada-based Republican strategist, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Reid's supporters say the senator needs no introduction to Hispanic voters. He is one of the Senate's fiercest advocates for comprehensive immigration reform, credited with pushing through the bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

He's also been head of the curve in courting Hispanic voters: In his 1992 campaign, against many people's advice, he directed precious money and time for Hispanic voter mobilization.

There's some speculation that Reid, who will be 75 on Dec. 2, could retire before 2016. But Reid-watchers note he hasn't acted like someone stepping down: Last week, Senate Democrats elected him their leader for the next two years of a Republican-controlled Senate.

"Reid's very much in the game," Ramirez said.

Returning to Del Sol highlights just how long the president has been advocating for immigration reform, said senior White House officials. The symmetry is there for Reid, too, who can also use the event as one of his first steps toward a possible sixth term.

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