End of obituary blasts senator

"In lieu of flowers, vote for another more worthy candidate."

Those were the final words in a family-written obituary for Charlotte McCourt, an 84-year-old former campaign worker for Sen. Harry Reid whose fervent wish in her final years was to see the senator lose re-election, two of her daughters said Wednesday.

"We believe that Mom would say she was mortified to have taken a large role in the election of Harry Reid to U.S. Congress," said the obituary, which appeared in Tuesday's Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Let the record show Charlotte was displeased with his work."

It's not often, if ever, that such a potent political statement is made in an obituary. But relatives and politicians who knew McCourt well said it would be just like her to bluntly speak her mind.

"It surprised me to see it in an obituary, but Charlotte had very strong opinions and never hesitated to express them," said Bruce Woodbury, a Republican and former Clark County commissioner who got help from the politically active McCourt in several of his campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s.

McCourt's from-the-grave call for Nevada voters to reject Reid is a sign of how difficult it might be for the unpopular Democrat to win a fifth Senate term based on support he has counted on in the past to eke out close victories, including from his own Mormon church community.

McCourt, the matriarch of a Mormon family, believed Reid has abandoned his Nevada roots and the church's conservative values during his rise to power as the Senate majority leader, her family said.

"She was pretty unhappy with Harry and the way he was handling himself," said Sherry d'Hulst of Salt Lake City, who co-wrote the obituary with one of her sisters. "We know she would have wanted us to put that in there. She had said statements like that many times."

Lanny Shea of Pahrump, who lived with her mother and father during McCourt's final months, said she and her sister have been getting mostly supportive comments since the obituary appeared, especially from Mormons who share their ill feelings about Reid.

"When he went to Washington, that's where he stayed. He never came back to Nevada," said Shea of Reid, who lives at the Ritz-Carlton in the nation's capital, but also maintains a house in his hometown of Searchlight. "She would not vote for him, or even say he was worth voting for.

"Those were her strong feelings and so we just did it," Shea added of the obituary plea to vote for anybody but Reid, lines their father approved, she said. "We didn't mean to create a stir."

But create a stir they did in the high-profile race between Reid and his Republican opponent Sharron Angle, a staunch conservative supported by the Tea Party movement.

A blog written Tuesday by Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith about the obit was picked up by national news outlets and bloggers closely following Reid's bid to keep his job. His re-election is key to the Democrats' efforts to control Congress and carry out President Barack Obama's agenda.

Asked Wednesday whether Reid remembered McCourt and had any reaction, campaign spokesman Jon Summers said, "Senator Reid's thoughts are with the family during this difficult time."

McCourt's two daughters said their mother's falling out with Reid dates back two decades, after she helped him during his first successful 1986 campaign for the U.S. Senate.

D'Hulst said her father, Patrick McCourt, an active union member, tried to contact Reid several times about a Social Security benefits issue "and he never returned his phone calls."

Lifelong conservative Democrats, family members said, they became more disillusioned over time with the direction that the party and Reid wanted to take the country, particularly on social and fiscal issues.

"We have all become more conservative," d'Hulst said, noting the family is against excessive federal spending and expansion of government programs, including the new health care law. "We didn't think we'd ever be Republicans, but we have a government now that has sold us down the river."

By 2008, most family members had switched to the GOP and supported Mitt Romney, a Mormon and former Massachusetts governor who won the Republican presidential caucuses in Nevada. Also by then, Charlotte McCourt was starting to suffer from Alzheimer's disease, according to her daughters.

Shea said family members voted for GOP nominee John McCain and not Obama two years ago.

Asked whether the family would support Angle on Nov. 2, Shea said she is leaning toward the former Reno assemblywoman but wants to learn more about her positions on Social Security and other issues.

"I have to see if she's actually going to help us and help manage the deficit," Shea said.

Woodbury, who knew McCourt well, said he, too, probably would support Angle, although he has long had good relations with both Reid and his son County Commissioner Rory Reid.

"I was approached by the Reid campaign but told them I could not endorse him," Woodbury said of the senator.

Some members of the Mormon community were upset by the obituary's message. Sandra Jolley worked with McCourt on Reid campaigns in the past and continues to volunteer.

"I knew Charlotte. She's someone I really admired," Jolley said. "But why on Earth would anyone want to use this forum to demonize someone? I think this is horrendous."

Jolley said many members of Nevada's Mormon community respect Reid, although they are less vocal than conservatives who have come to dislike the senator strongly. Although Mormons make up 7.5 percent of the state population, they account for 20 percent to 30 percent of the Republican vote.

"I just think there's a lot of blind hostility, and they're upset. I feel it. I see it. I experience it. It's inexplicable," Jolley said, adding that she and many other Mormons still see Reid as a man who cares about Nevada. "Thank goodness he's here. He's been so successful, and he's served so long."

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.