All Harry Reid needed Thursday was the soft blue pullover from his newest TV commercial. Here was the Senate majority leader at home, unscripted and with more criticism pointing inward than at the man he has called a “loser,” George W. Bush.
Reid came to the Red Rock Democratic Club meeting at the Sahara West Library to rally the troops for Saturday’s presidential caucus. After a show of hands told him the majority of the 200 in attendance were actually running the caucus, Reid shifted gears.
The next half-hour or so presented Reid in the most personal setting you could imagine for the soft-spoken leader, whose words nonetheless pack a wallop in Washington.
Here was Reid back in the district, aware of his nonexistent approval rating and watching the calendar flip ever closer to a re-election bid in 2010, when he will have to prove he’s no Tom Daschle.
“I thought I’d just take a few questions,” Reid said, looking at club President Steve Fernlund, “if that’s all right with you.”
Imagine that. Reid, the father of the state party, asking permission to get personal.
This wasn’t the typical recess dog and pony show, where the topic is narrowed to, say, Medicare’s doughnut hole or the coal-fired power plants planned for Ely. This was Reid riffing on Iran, the alternative minimum tax, immigration, Iraq and even his own performance.
“I realize there are people who could probably do that job better than me, but the point is, it’s my job,” Reid said.
Later, he reminded everyone that he has three years left on his contract, intoning that anyone with eyes for his leadership mantle will have to pry it from his cold, dead hands.
“May I be a bit discordant?” an older gentleman in the front of the room asked, prefacing his question.
“Why should you be any different?” Reid said, looking him in the eye. The toll of a year as the Senate’s leader was evident on his face, as he listened to the soft grilling — after all, this was a club of Democrats.
“Not as much as I expected to be done or to be passed, was accomplished,” the man said.
Reid did his best Hillary Clinton impression, trying to appear empathetic but ready to buoy his position.
First there was the history. Nobody expected Democrats to win the Senate in 2006. Tim Johnson’s incapacity led to an even shakier majority, Reid said, and Joe Lieberman (boos and hisses in the room) was never with him on the war in Iraq.
Although heroes like Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel (quiet applause) would come over, Democrats could never get the filibuster-proof 60 votes they needed to get anything passed.
“On the war, no one can question our will,” Reid said. “We tried everything.”
And then, channeling Bush: “When the history books are written, they’re going to give us a grade of A+.”
A semi-popular Reid would typically hold an event where a few public officials would tout his greatness and he would smile, wave and give a few remarks. On Thursday, he chatted with activists, pointed out some candidates in the crowd and stayed neutral on the Obama-Clinton caucus battle.
He even wowed the crowd, delving into county fair mode with his knowledge of the great state of Nevada. “Did you know Nevada is the largest producer of white onions?”
Finally, after calling for the last question, he got a softball: How can we stop the coal-fired power plants planned for Ely?
“Thanks for asking,” Reid beamed.
Then he got all Sierra Club crunchy. The Steptoe Valley outside Ely is “the most pristine place” in the lower 48 states, he said. “I can’t live with myself if I don’t try to protect it,” he said.
Afterward, he gripped hands and posed for camera phone photos 2,450 miles from Washington, D.C.
“I love coming home,” he told me afterward. “This has been great.”
At-large caucus sites
If the courts don’t intervene, the state Democratic Party may find itself in the middle of a campaign war over at-large precincts for Saturday’s caucus.
The state party says staff from here and from the Iowa Democratic Party will man the at-large caucus sites set up to accommodate service industry workers who cannot stray too far (2.5 miles to be exact) from work.
At precinct sites, the names of all registered Democrats in that precinct will be on hand. But at the at-large sites, where participants could be from anywhere, “people will have to show their employee ID,” party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said.
“We will have a database,” Searer said. “I’m 90 percent sure we’ll be checking.”
Contact Erin Neff at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2906.