Thursday, June 16, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Donald Trump and Harry Reid aren’t running for Congress in Nevada in 2016. But the frequency with which Democratic and Republican congressional candidates and their operatives have name-dropped the two men in the 24 hours since the results of the Nevada primaries were announced might have you wondering.
If you listen to the Democrats, the Republicans are “Trump’s ideological soul mates,” have shown “embarrassing support of Donald Trump,” and are “the worst kind of Trump lemming.”
If you listen to the Republicans, the Democrats are “Harry Reid 2.0,” “would put us in the same, failed position that Harry Reid has,” and were “hand-picked by Harry Reid himself.”
Yet, Trump and Reid have factored into the congressional races in completely different ways.
Reid’s hand was heavy in three Democratic congressional primaries. His established political network in Nevada worked to ensure state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and Henderson synagogue leader Jacky Rosen were the nominees in their congressional districts, and that Nevada attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto was poised to take his seat in the U.S. Senate as the nominee in that race. He made personal appearances with the candidates. His portrait was on their mailers.
Trump, by contrast, has loomed as an invisible presence over Rep. Cresent Hardy’s and businessman Danny Tarkanian’s congressional races as well as Rep. Joe Heck’s bid for the U.S. Senate. All three candidates have said they will support Trump as the Republican party’s presidential nominee. But when they talk about him, it’s often in response to a reporter’s question — not because they’ve brought him up of their own accord. (Trump also hasn’t taken a keen interest in down-ballot Republican races.)
The comparisons aren’t new. Heck’s campaign has been calling Cortez Masto “Reid’s hand-picked candidate” for months. Similarly, Kihuen’s campaign has frequently drawn parallels between Hardy and Trump. But the strategy has newfound intensity in the primary's wake, now that candidates have officially turned from intra- to inter-party bickering.
The clearest example is in the 3rd Congressional District, where Rosen and Tarkanian finally set their sights on one another after being named their parties’ nominees.
In a primary-night statement, Rosen immediately took aim at Tarkanian, calling him “an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump” who has “repeatedly refused to condemn Trump’s bigotry, sexism and lack of judgement.” Tarkanian did the same in both a primary-night interview and a prepared statement, calling Rosen “the candidate hand-picked by Washington and Harry Reid.”
But the way they responded to those remarks is characteristic of the way in which the Democratic and Republican candidates in the three races have responded to respective comparisons to Reid and Trump.
“I’m very much my own person. Anybody who knows me will tell you that,” Rosen said. “I’m so humbled and honored to have Senator Reid, his lifetime of experience, to mentor me and give me that wisdom, (but) I stand on what I know about this district.”
Tarkanian says that Trump has said things he doesn't agree with, “mostly the personal stuff and the ways he worded things, like his statement about banning Muslims.”
Their responses highlight the key difference in how candidates are treating these associations: Democrats welcome Reid’s support with open arms, while Republicans try to distance themselves from Trump.
Reid's name was a boon to the three Democratic candidates in their primaries. At least a dozen people interviewed outside their polling places Tuesday mentioned Reid’s endorsement of either Cortez Masto, Kihuen or Rosen as the reason for supporting their favored candidate.
“(Reid’s endorsement) was very important to me. It was the reason for my (U.S.) Senate vote,” said Ray Reece, 53, outside his polling place at a middle school in Summerlin. “I’m a big fan of Mr. Reid’s.”
As much as they respect the veteran senator, the candidates now face the challenge of creating a name for themselves beyond Reid's influence.
“I will tell you this: For me it is not about labels. It’s about the issues that people care about,” said Cortez Masto, asked how she would distinguish herself from Reid.
The other question is how well the Reid name plays in the general election.
Nevada voters have chosen Reid time and time again during his 30 years in the U.S. Senate — even longer if you include his time representing Nevada’s 1st Congressional District. Still, before Reid announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election, polls showed him trailing behind possible Republican opponents.
Tarkanian’s argument is that the Reid connection could backfire. He pointed to a number of statements Reid has gotten flack for over the years — including the recent accusation that Reid told congressional candidate Jesse Sbaih that a Muslim couldn’t win the race, which Reid’s office has denied. Tarkanian said that if Rosen could go after him for Trump’s statements, he could go after her for Reid’s remarks.
“Harry Reid has said all kinds of offensive things. Political pundits have expressed the numerous gaffes and statements Reid has made throughout the years,” Tarkanian said. “Now Jacky wants to tie me to being like Donald Trump because I support the nominee when the guy who put her in the race has said many if not worse things?”
Kristen Orthman, spokeswoman for Reid, characterized Tarkanian drawing Reid into the argument as an attempt to “hide from his own record.”
“If he’s trying to use Sen. Reid’s name to distract from his own record, good luck with that,” Orthman said.
UNLV professor David Damore said he didn’t think that bringing up old Reid blunders would prove as effective a strategy in combatting Trump’s remarks. “Trump every day can do something, whereas it’s Harry Reid’s greatest hits from the last 30 years,” Damore said. “It’s a more difficult argument to make.”
At the same time, the way that Republican candidates choose to address or not address Trump could have significant bearing on the election, particularly as Trump’s favorability ratings remain low nationwide.
Republican political consultant Greg Ferraro said he expects Republican candidates to start distancing themselves from Trump on certain issues, but added that he thinks the same will happen for the Democratic candidates with Hillary Clinton.
“I think for Republicans, they’re going to have to wrestle with the top of the ticket and how the voters in those districts are reacting to that,” Ferraro said. “Nevadans have a rich tradition of being independent people.”
In a phone interview Tuesday night, Heck deflected questions about Trump.
“I have a very set series of issues we’ve talked about, what people in Nevada have expressed to me are their major concerns,” Heck said.
But some welcome the Trump-Reid comparisons. Democratic consultant Andres Ramirez, who was involved with Kihuen’s congressional campaign, called them “a great dichotomy.”
“If that’s what the Republicans want to do and label our candidates as Reid candidates, we know Reid knows how to win elections in Nevada,” Ramirez said. “Nevadans will vote for Harry Reid.”