Sen. Harry Reid is holding a reservations-only forum at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas today to talk about health care, a divisive subject that has contributed to his new status as ''most vulnerable incumbent'' in 2010, according to a top political tracker.
Reid's unpopularity with his home state crowd is nothing new; his poll numbers have been plunging ever since he became Senate majority leader and began leading the Democratic Party's efforts to reform the nation's health care system as promised by President Barack Obama.
What's new is that Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., announced Wednesday that he wouldn't run for re-election, which means Reid now replaces Dodd as the Democrat most likely to lose in what the Cook Political Report shows as ''toss-up'' Senate races.
"Reid is now the most vulnerable incumbent based mostly on poll numbers,'' Cook's Jennifer Duffy said. She noted that he's trailing in early opinion surveys against two Republicans: Sue Lowden, ex-chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party and a former state senator, and businessman Danny Tarkanian, a former UNLV basketball star. More than a half-dozen other lesser-known Republicans also are challenging Reid.
Why is the senator from Searchlight facing such a tough re-election battle? The bad economy is the main reason behind voter dissatisfaction and the more Nevadans see Reid carrying the White House water on hot-button issues such as health care, the angrier they get, Duffy said.
"And then the last piece of it really seems to be personality driven,'' Duffy said of Reid, who isn't known for his charisma but instead for his soft-spoken manner and behind-the-scenes style.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers dismissed outside surveys, saying, "Our internal polling shows us beating all of our potential opponents'' without offering details. "Senator Reid is focused on creating jobs in Nevada and getting the state's economy back on track,'' he added.
In early December, a poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed 50 percent of Nevadans disapproved of Reid's efforts to get a health care bill through the Senate. Some 39 percent approved and 11 percent weren't sure. Mason-Dixon conducted the survey of 625 registered voters.
Reid is expected to address a friendly crowd today at the health care forum, which required RSVPs from those who got e-mails from Reid and Democratic Party lists.
Zac Petkanas, a Reid spokesman, said other Nevadans were welcome to attend, however, because the event also was promoted online and through the media, although seating is limited to 450 -- the capacity of the Judy Bayley Theatre on the UNLV campus.
Conservative GOP and anti-Reid groups had gotten wind of the 5 p.m. event, which requires reservations, and were blogging on the Internet to try to organize protests outside. One Web site announced: "Tea Party alert: Harry Reid in Las Vegas to shill for Demcare tomorrow.''
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