U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid watched Hillary Clinton endorse Barack Obama on Saturday and wholeheartedly approved.
"I watched every word of it. I thought it was excellent," the Nevada Democrat said of Clinton's speech in Washington, D.C., which marked the official suspension of the New York senator and former first lady's presidential campaign. "I just think she did such a nice job passing the ball off for Obama."
Wary of harming relationships in the Senate, Reid waited almost as long as Clinton to get behind Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and freshman senator from Illinois. Reid officially came out for Obama on Friday.
In a phone interview Monday, Reid said he's convinced Obama will win Nevada, mainly because of what he considers the weakness of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain, another Senate colleague.
He also said he has been consulted on Obama's vice presidential search and plans to keep him in the loop on the Democrats' Senate agenda as the campaign season proceeds. Reid met Monday with two members of Obama's vice presidential selection team, James Johnson and Eric Holder.
"We had a very long conversation, which was confidential, as it should be," Reid said. "I was candid with them."
The pair of Obama advisers met with several top Democrats on Capitol Hill on Monday, according to news reports.
Reid wouldn't say what input he gave them or whether he thought Clinton should be Obama's running mate.
"He is the only one who should make that decision, depending on how he feels comfortable with someone, how he feels working with someone," Reid said. "I have worked with her, and she is an outstanding senator. But it's up to him."
Now that the nominee is no longer in question, Reid has taken steps to make sure Obama has a representative in all the meetings of Democratic leaders in the Senate, "to make sure he's in on all the decisions we make."
Reid added, "I want him knowing where we're going here in the Senate. He's busy. He won't be here much. I'd certainly want to know what my party was doing in the Senate."
Obama didn't win the Jan. 19 Nevada caucuses. Clinton won 51 percent of precinct delegates to Obama's 45 percent. Reid pointed out that Obama ended up winning more Nevada delegates than Clinton because he was stronger in rural and Northern Nevada.
"What Barack Obama did in rural Nevada was outstanding," said Reid, who has often blamed 2004 nominee John Kerry's narrow loss of the state on his failure to campaign in rural areas. "Hillary won the popular vote, but he won the delegates because he did so well in those districts."
Registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans in Nevada by more than 50,000, and Reid predicted party members will come together behind Obama, even if they previously supported Clinton.
"I don't see how they couldn't go for Obama," he said. "I say that because here's a person (McCain) who tried to go against our sports books, even though 99 percent of the betting (on college sports) takes place elsewhere illegally. Here's someone who's been a strong advocate of Yucca Mountain, who's been for the war from the very beginning, who's been one of Bush's cheerleaders. I don't see how Nevada could vote for McCain."
Reid was referring to McCain's stances on two Nevada issues: He once advocated outlawing betting on college sports, a major source of revenue for Las Vegas casinos, and he has long supported construction of the proposed nuclear waste repository 100 miles from Las Vegas.
"Nevada voters want to hear there's going to be some changes, there's not going to be another four years of George Bush," Reid said.
A McCain campaign spokesman took issue with Reid's claims, saying McCain was far from a Bush clone.
"Anybody who looks at Senator McCain's record sees the success he has had working through bipartisan channels," Rick Gorka said. "He has rebuffed his own party on various issues; he's worked with Senator (Edward) Kennedy multiple times over the years. Senator McCain has been a maverick his entire career."
Gorka said Nevadans would overlook McCain's positions on issues such as Yucca Mountain if they agreed with him on other matters.
"You're never going to agree with a politician 100 percent of the time. If you do, that politician's lying through their teeth," he said. "Nevadans should realize that with John McCain you're always going to know what he believes. You're going to get the truth, and that's different than politics as usual."
Nevadans will vote for McCain in the end because he is a fiscal conservative, Gorka said.
"Nevadans, like most Americans right now, are very concerned about economic policy," he said, adding that Obama's policies for the economy would increase people's taxes. "When times are tough, government doesn't need to be taking more money from people's paychecks. Americans can't afford Obama's fiscal policy."
Reid said he thought the economy would be a top issue in November, with the war and the environment, but added that voters would side with Democrats on those issues.
"Look at what George Bush has done for our country with his skewed tax policy," he said. "Democrats aren't looking to raise taxes. We're looking for fairness. We think it's unfair that these companies that are making billions of dollars a year are paying less taxes than somebody who works at Wal-Mart."
Reid said he sees similarities between Obama and President Reagan in a couple of ways. Like Reagan, he said, Obama has the ability to get votes across party lines. And like Reagan, he said, Obama could achieve breakthroughs in international diplomacy despite a lack of foreign policy experience.
"Barack Obama is someone who I think has the same status (coming into office) as Ronald Reagan," he said. "Ronald Reagan had no experience, but what did he do? He reached out. He was very anti-communist, yet he reached out to the Soviet Union. He reached out to leaders he didn't like, and as a result of doing these great acts of diplomacy, the Cold War ended and the Iron Curtain rolled up. He was someone who didn't have foreign policy experience, and look what he managed to accomplish."
Reid said he believes Republican policymakers, including most in the Senate, have drifted further to the right than their party's rank and file.
"You will see Barack Obama pulling in a lot of Republicans, like Reagan did Democrats," he said. "Republicans are really tired of what they have seen. George Bush does not represent mainstream Republicans.
"John McCain does not represent mainstream Republicans."
Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.