With the new political landscape, Reid must rethink his course


Any lingering questions about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's health surely were answered this past week.

After what happened to affect his prospects in Washington and Nevada, Reid must have the heart of a marathoner and the constitution of a mountaineer.

You might recall Reid suffered a mild stroke in August 2005, which fueled speculation, especially by those hoping to hasten his exit, that he might consider retirement. Since then, however, Reid has returned to putting in the long days common to members of the U.S. Senate. Staffers say Reid maintains a daily fitness routine that includes brisk walks and yoga.

I'm guessing this past week had Reid working overtime to reach a cosmic consciousness. Or at least, as they said on "Seinfeld," "Serenity now!"

First, he watched a Republican beat a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, an event only slightly more common than the appearance of Halley's Comet. Now the victorious Scott Brown is the talk of Washington, and the Democrats are lowering their health care reform aspirations.

Back in Nevada, Reid learned Lt. Gov Brian Krolicki -- fresh from the dismissal of felony charges that he misused state funds -- is being urged to enter the crowded Republican Senate primary field. Should Krolicki jump into the race, he could give Reid fits in November and force at least one candidate to drop out of the crowded field.

A weaker heart would have stopped cold. A lesser stomach would have turned twice. A typical politician's head has been known to explode over such news.

But wait, it gets worse.

There's the shabby state of Nevada's economy to consider. Officially, unemployment climbed to 13 percent in December. Reid's not responsible for that, but as the state's political titan he's expected to do something about it in real time. He's announced green energy programs that should generate jobs, but most of those programs will take time to ramp up. Time isn't a luxury Reid enjoys.

While he's busy trying to solve Nevada's employment woes, Reid needs to work on his damaged image in rural areas. That's not because he hopes to win in places such as Tonopah and Ely, but because national reporters covering his race are picking up on the vitriol in towns where "Anybody Butt Harry Reid" and "Will Rogers Never Met Harry Reid" signs are common.

Now that the Democrats' advantage in the U.S. Senate has slipped, Reid will be forced to do something he should have done weeks ago: trim President Barack Obama's health care reform plans into something that will pass and give its supporters a chance for survival in 2010.

Polls show Obama's popularity in Nevada has slipped steadily in recent months. That will complicate just how much aid Obama will be able to give Reid. The president is due to visit Las Vegas next month. Will they be standing together come September?

While I'm offering unsolicited advice to the second most powerful Democrat in America, it's past time Reid spent some campaign funds to send position-savvy representatives into the field to hold information-sharing sessions to help cut through the fear currently being stoked on issues such as health care and the economy.

Reid's supporters say the senator has answers for all the fretting media's questions about his re-election bid. He has decades of experience, has brought home more bacon to Nevada than any senator in the history of the state and continues to fight daily to salvage our flickering quality of life. He also has an enormous campaign bankroll and a large voter registration advantage.

The Republicans have no one who can shine his shoes, his allies say, much less fill them.

Perhaps so.

But the political pressure Reid faces in the heart of power and his home state are enough to test any marathoner's heart.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

 

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