Senate Democratic Leader Reid Faces Big Trouble at Home

Washington Matters

Senate Democratic Leader Reid
Faces Big Trouble at Home

While Harry Reid works to pass a health care bill, his 2010 reelection prospects are taking a turn for the worst.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a political pickle as he tries to work legislative miracles in the Senate to pass a largely partisan-backed health care reform bill this month.

If health care reform sputters and fails, he’ll get the lion’s share of the blame for what would be a crushing loss for the Democratic Party and President Obama. If something substantial passes, he’ll be on the defensive all next year for leading the charge on what critics say is a massive and costly reform that may not work and the fruits of which could be years away. All the while, Reid will be trying to act on yet more controversial Democratic legislation that has long early odds of passing -- an energy cap-and-trade bill, an immigration overhaul and a union-backed card check bill – all while the public focus will be on jobs.

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All that while he struggles to hold onto to his seat and avoid the fate of his predecessor Tom Daschle, who was ousted by South Dakota voters in 2004.

At this early stage Reid rates a slight edge for reelection next year, but Democrats are clearly worried. His popularity is in the tank at home – he has a 38% approval rating and a 49% disapproval rating (rough numbers for an incumbent), according to a Mason Dixon poll released this week. In a hypothetical matchup with former GOP official Sue Lowden, voters favored Lowden 51% to 41%, indicating that an ad blitz by Reid over the past several weeks hasn’t helped much.


Reid still has huge advantages. He’s likely to raise $25 million for the campaign, an astounding amount for Nevada and probably three times what his GOP opponent will raise. He can also point to years of constituent service and great success in bringing home the bacon, including stopping the plan to store nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain and helping keep international financing alive for the massive $8.5 billion CityCenter casino project on the Las Vegas strip. Unions are strong in Nevada and supportive of Reid, but he also has strong relationships with Nevada’s mining companies, helping to protect the industry from heavy regulation.

At the same time, there are about 200,000 new voters in Nevada who know little about him, have never voted for him and largely see him as an outspoken and partisan Senate version of liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. Three of four of Reid’s previous election wins were by extremely narrow margins.

Pelosi is in far better shape politically. While she’s a favorite target for conservatives, she is nearly revered in her liberal San Francisco district, and she has used much political savvy and smarts to reinforce her power and influence over nearly all action in the House. She’s also made inroads to conservative Democrats while not alienating liberals who want to see more progressive action taken. She cleverly outmaneuvered Republican leaders in the House’s narrow 220-215 vote on passage of health care on Nov. 7. A health care failure, if it happens, will be at the hands of the Senate, not the House. If it passes, she can claim credit for helping rescue it. Pelosi is a safe bet to be reelected Speaker.

An unknown issue for Reid is that his son, Rory Reid, is running for governor on the same ballot. Reid fatigue could be a silent issue. Reid’s been in elected office in Nevada since 1969.