Nevada 2010 Senate Race

Senator Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader for the Democrats hailing for good ol’ Nevada. Being one of the 3 main faces of the Democrats (the other two being President Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi), the successes and failure of a party that holds both chambers of Congress and the White House will be pinned to him more so than any other Democrat. And, with a pretty miserable first year for Obama and the Democrats up on the Hill, Reid has had a lot of tar thrown at him. Really, he’s only waiting for the feathers to be thrown on him and the everyone will start laughing at him. A majority leader with a (granted flimsy) 60 seats in the Senate and he couldn’t get a serious bill through his chamber. He couldn’t even get a cloture vote when he wanted one! Heck, there are still nominations for some important and serious positions in the government being held up.

So much for the days of a head-kicking majority leader. A look at Reid’s personal history in politics and civil service reads like a guy who should have achieved more in 2009: first elected as the Congressman from Nevada’s 1st Congressional District, serving from 1983-1987 (prior to which he was lieutenant governor from 1971-1975, then chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1978-1981); elected Senator for Nevada in 1987 and serving since; served as Majority Whip twice (albeit his first stint was for ~20), from 2001-2003; ascended to minority leader in 2005 through to the Democrat’s takeover of the Senate in 2007, whence he became the Majority Leader. And consider this within the Nevada political climate: It’s quite the bellweather state, having gone with the winning president every year since 1912 excluding 1976. This means that Reid was first elected between Reagan’s victory and his follow-up sweep of the country in 1988 with his massive popularity; rode in to his first reelection with Bill Clinton’s victory; was reelected even amidst the height of Lewinsky Scandal in 1998 (although he won by 0.1%, or 428 votes); and then reelected even when Bush was reelected in 2004.

Reading that, it would seem Reid is politically savvy, self-preserving, and on-the-button with “the issues”. And, reading his complete history, he actually is. He is no slouch and knows how to get things done. He takes a different approach to the head-cracker, threatening, LBJ-type Senate character. He works hard, gets onto popular opinion and rides that, all the while talking and listening to his colleagues.

Maybe that last part should be past tense, because he has shown little-to-none of that since 2009 started and the Democrats had control of everything. And it’s this lack of action that has given Reid a hard time of his reelection at the midterms. With an economy bottomed-out (people don’t seem to appreciate a stop to a crashing economy these days), unemployment at record highs (10.6% nationally, 12.8% in Nevada), no action on the environment (the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository is a hot-button issue in Nevada), no movement on immigration issues (demographically, the state has a 20% Hispanic/Latino population), the population must be wondering what use is it having your own Senator as the Majority Leader. What’s worse, the inaction is going to be partly (rightly or wrongly) put onto him and his party, so rather than voting him out because of his status Nevada may be thinking of voting him out because he’s a Democrat.

Business, and a strong economy, are more important to Nevada. In 2006, it was the 8th fastest growing state, and has increased in population by 20.8% since 2000. The state has no personal income tax or corporate income tax, so a growing economy – where those conditions look juicy for a growing business. But businesses aren’t growing, because the economy isn’t. And the administration is, largely, seen as mishandling the economy. In recent polls, 52% disapprove of the way Obama has handled the economy. 58% disapprove of the way Obama has handled the deficit. 56% say that Obama doesn’t have a clear plan for creating jobs. 83% say the economy is in ‘bad shape’, with less than 25% saying that they see signs of improvement and 70% saying they expect the recession to last 2 more years or further. 52% say that Obama hasn’t spent enough time on the economy, with 48% saying he spent too much time on healthcare.

It’s easy to imagine that these numbers are reflective of Nevada, who require a strong economy and a strong bill to create jobs.

So Reid has to contend with all this in his reelection. First he has to get through the primaries. If he wasn’t faring so bad in the polls (which we will get to), he wouldn’t have any primary challengers. But, at the moment, because he is seen as weak in the general election, there are a number of local Democrats who are mulling a challenge. It might be crazy to challenge a Senate Majority Leader in a primary fight under normal circumstances, but in this scenario it might not be. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and State Representative Barbara Buckley are two candidates who haven’t ruled out a challenge when asked. Though, in the only poll taken for a possible Democrat primary, Reid beats out Buckley 51% to 20%. It’s unlikely he will get a challenge: Only if something horrible for Reid happens in the Senate will a challenger appear.

On the Republican side, because they smell blood in the water, there are a host of potential challengers. It used to be that the Democrats and Republicans had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that they wouldn’t target the leaders of the parties. One assumes so that the leaders don’t have to go back to the state and campaign and can stay in DC and get some work done, as well as more self-preserving reasons that they probably hash out with their counterpart on the other side of the aisle during terms. But ever since the Republicans targetted, and beat, Tom Daschle, Democratic Senator, and Majority Leader, from South Dakota, the deal has been off.

There is no less than 12 announced Republican primary candidates, which is ridiculous: A candidate, in theory, could with with 9% of the vote! The real contenders, though, are Danny Tarkanian, real estate owner and former UNLV basketball player, Sue Lowden, Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman and former State Senator, Sharron Angle, former Assemblywoman. Tarkanian and Lowden are trading leads in polls, but Angle seems to be hanging about as a dark horse third. My prediction is that it will be a close contest between Tarkanian and Lowden with a Tarkanian win due to his celebrity appeal.

It doesn’t really matter to Reid at this point: He fares bad against one and worse against the other in polls. Reid hasn’t broken 50% in any poll (which, for an incumbent, is the first ingredient of a disaster). We’ll start with Reid vs. Lowden. The average of the polls had Lowden ahead by 8.8% (49.3% to Reid’s 40.5%), and a look at every poll between the two has Lowden winning them all. In recent polls, the best Reid can claim is a 9% deficit, 42%to 51%, though there was a 41% to 42% in early January. Reid has to hope that the 41% to 42% is on the money, so that there really is some ~20% undecided that he can win over with a quick-fire jobs bill, and maybe some other pander to his state.

Interestingly, in early January, there was a Lowden vs. Goodman poll, in which Goodman won 42% to 40%.So it’s not as though Lowden is an unbeatable force in Nevada, it’s that Reid has local problems.

Tarkanian, perhaps the stronger candidate (in terms of campaigning, not politically), was beat by Reid in an early January poll, 43% to 41%. But, other than that, Tarkanian has won all the polls and leads Reid on the averages with 8.7% – 49.5% to 40.8%. 5-8% seems to be the real trend of Reid’s loss against Tarkanian, with a few blow-outs (which are questionable) messing with the averages. But, still, Reid has to be hoping for the polls to all be soft numbers, because they all have Tarkanian 4% or less off of 50%.

Again, it is of note that Goodman tied Tarkanian in the same poll that he beat Lowden in, 41% a piece.

And if it wasn’t all a shoot for Reid, it will be when he sees that any poll he is matched up against Angle with he loses as well by an average of 4% – though he probably stands the best chance against her because neither have broken 50% in any poll.

Reid is in serious trouble less than 9 months out of the election. Any jobs will will have to be masterfully handled, PR-wise, and be quick-firing if it’s going to be the only thing that drags him into the safety zone. He will really need to supplement a jobs bill with a healthcare victory to restore some prestige to having a senator who is the Senate Majority Leader. A bill on immigration would go down well with the state due to demographics. Getting through, or being on the verge of getting through, a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (which is probably true to his own political opinion, as he has a strong (though not the strongest) liberal voting record) would get the base out. And, with state that has a population of 43.8% registered Democrats, 36.1% Republican, and 20.1% independent, getting the base out is 3/4s of the battle.

This is the race to watch if only for the shake-up at the top of the Democrats. If Reid goes, it’s an all-out brawl for the leadership between a pair of left-of-liberal Democrats in Chuck Schumer (Senator from New York and current vice-chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus (as well as a guy who got some 14 senators elected as the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) and Dick Durbin (Senator from Illinois and current Majority Whip). That’s actually the fight I want to see; I’d buy tickets for it! To be a fly on the wall during that vote. And these guys are no quiet and meek Reid-type senators. They will bash heads together, get into the mud, and throw their political clout around to get stuff done. And, when the Democrats don’t have 60 seats anymore (which is likely), they will need a majority leader like that.

But I don’t want that  to happen at the expense of Reid. If Reid gets reelected, I suspect he will step down as Majority Leader some time soon. I’ll be watching the race with keen eyes as it’s nearly the closest thing to a referendum on Obama: swing state, his go-to guy in the Senate, and suffering due to the national circumstances.

The best chance that Harry Reid has, however, has only emerged recently. The Tea Party – the right-wing fringe of the GOP who have officially lost it – have been granted a Certificate of Existence and can field a candidate in the race. Doing so, assuming it isn’t a joint candidate with the Republicans, would drain away votes from the GOP candidate that Reid has to face, meaning a sub-50% vote would win the day. Also going through the process are 5 independents and a Reform Party candidate. But the main concern is the potential Tea Party candidate. They will only suck away Republican votes and (uninformed?) independents, leaving it a battle of the bases. And, as we have seen, the number of registered Democrats leads the number of registered Republicans by some 6%. In this race, above all others, I think the Tea Party will realise how much they hurt their own original party (the GOP) and make get some sense to stop being a fringe group. In saying that, I hope they realise that next year and Reid slides in for a close and narrow victory.

Thomas.

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