Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid might not be running this cycle, but he scored a broad victory in the Nevada primary on Tuesday when congressional candidates he supported — state Sen. Ruben Kihuen and synagogue leader Jacky Rosen — landed decisive wins.
Victories in an easy Senate primary and two more-competitive House races underscore the influence that five-term, lame-duck Reid still wields in his home state. It also shows limits on anti-establishment fervor among Democratic primary voters: candidates who were open about their breaks with the retiring senator lost badly.
“He’s the leader of our party and we look to him for leadership,” said Roberta Lange, chairman of the Nevada State Democratic Party. “His voice is important. I think that people respect his opinion.”
Kihuen talked often about his endorsement from Reid, whom he called a mentor and friend. His campaign in the 4th Congressional District focused much of its money into frequently running a TV commercial that featured Reid.
Kihuen ultimately won 40 percent of the vote, compared with 21 percent for Susie Lee and 26 percent for Lucy Flores, who supported Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and played up her contrarian streak. Kihuen credits the work of the Culinary union, which devoted a small army of people to canvassing the district for him, as well as validation from President Bill Clinton and Reid.
“They’re trusted voices in the Democratic Party,” Kihuen said Wednesday. “You have the Senate Democratic leader, somebody who has done more for Nevada than any representative ever in Congress. You have one of the most popular presidents in U.S. history … and you have the most powerful labor union.”
When Reid made a personal appearance at a Kihuen campaign event in North Las Vegas earlier this month, he called Lee a wonderful woman who he wished was running in another district. But he said he’s a big believer in loyalty, and needed to step in the race to do what he could for a friend and former staffer.
“It’s a great field of candidates. But Ruben is who I feel I owe a great deal,” he said. “I could’ve walked away … I don’t believe in that. You have to take a choice. I took mine.”
Candidates who missed out on Reid’s weighty blessing, such as 3rd Congressional District candidate Jesse Sbaih, say their road has been tough. Sbaih made headlines this spring when he said Reid told him in a private meeting that a Muslim like him couldn’t win the race.
Reid officials acknowledge religion came up in the conversation but deny that it was why they said Sbaih, an attorney who emigrated from Jordan as a child, couldn’t win. The senator worked to recruit and endorse synagogue leader Rosen, who ultimately won 62 percent of the vote to Sbaih’s 13 percent.
Sbaih said he wishes party power players would stop intervening at the primary level and “choosing between your own kids.”
“Let the primaries go,” he said in a recent interview. “Let people decide on the merits who their candidate is and stop trying to drown the voice of the non-Establishment candidate,” he said in a recent interview.
Republicans hope that Nevada’s general election voter base leans more against the blunt and polarizing Reid. Rep. Joe Heck, who’s running for U.S. Senate against Reid pick and former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, has centered much of his campaign pitch on preventing “Reid 2.0.”