The political headline of last week, “Reid’s popularity falls among Nevadans,” wasn’t all that surprising. Nevada’s never been particularly wild about Harry Reid. But he’s always managed to cobble enough of a constituency to ward off opponents, even if by the narrowest of margins.
The surprise was in the degree of voter disenchantment. The poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s unfavorable rating had moved past the 50 percent mark — 51 percent, to be precise. His favorable rating was 32 percent, 2 points lower than embattled, lame duck President George W. Bush.
As bad as the ratings were, you could see it coming.
In fact, I did. In a column published May 21, 2006, I wrote that if Sen. Reid continued to kowtow the liberal wing of his party, “Nevada voters will march to the polls and replace (him), thus ending one of the longer, more powerful political runs in state history.”
That prediction 17 months ago was clearly on the money in light of last week’s Review-Journal poll conducted by Brad Coker, a nationally known pollster with an impeccable track record over 20 years and, equally important, tied neither to the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party.
Some local writers who fancy themselves political gurus issued knee-jerk challenges of the poll. They didn’t see it coming; therefore, it must be the result of a sampling error or some other pollster screw-up.
There’s an egocentric homer analysis for you.
The more correct view on these new numbers is that they signal Reid, who has always been on the edge of trouble with Nevada’s electorate, may now be in big trouble. If Sen. Reid can’t find his way back into the good graces of Nevadans, this could be his last term.
And that’s a big story.
Let me spell out Harry’s problem. No one can win a statewide race in Nevada on a platform that appears anti-military, anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-religion, anti-free speech, pro-illegal immigration, pro-abortion, and pro-taxation. While Harry isn’t all of that personally, he clearly projects elements of them all when he’s doing the bidding of his party on the national stage.
(It also doesn’t help Harry’s numbers when he foolishly attacks Rush Limbaugh, only to have the conservative radio talk show host lash back in a brutally effective rebuttal for the entire nation to hear.)
Tom Daschle knows what I’m talking about. He was Harry’s predecessor in the Senate. He, like Reid does now, carried the liberal banner of his national party and slowly but surely his support eroded in his conservative home state of South Dakota. Then one day he woke up with big negatives and the next day he was unelected.
Whether you buy into the 51 percent number as the precise level of Nevada dissatisfaction with Reid or not, it’s crystal clear the Daschle effect is in play with Reid. And that means his next race may be the political fight of his life.
While Harry demonstrated resiliency in past races, let’s not forget he’s no spring chicken anymore. He was born in 1939, just about the time golf moved from hickory shafted clubs to steel. He’s already suffered one stroke, and most folks who see him regularly say he looks weary. Of course, we’re all getting older, so we ought not to hold that against him.
It’s just to point out that getting old is not for sissies. Katharine Hepburn said that.
For politicians, the one thing worse than getting old is not death. It’s getting a midterm unfavorable rating of 51 percent. I said that.
You can bet if that number doesn’t improve, he will draw a quality, younger opponent, well-funded and perfectly willing to engage him door-to-door up and down the state, from Laughlin to Winnemucca and Gardnerville to Mesquite.
The good news for Reid is there’s about three years before he’s up for re-election. That’s still a lot of time for this lion in the winter.
Nevertheless, you’d have to be the dumbest of all asses to close your eyes and pretend this is a sampling or methodology error. I promise you that’s not how Reid’s inner circle views it. They take it seriously because they know nobody carries a high unfavorable number into an election and reasonably expects to survive.
So I look for Harry to tone down the liberal rhetoric, shut up about Limbaugh, and do all he can locally to turn these negative numbers around. The Las Vegas Sun will do its part by providing glowing coverage of his exploits. Then, in about 12 to 18 months, he’ll perform an internal re-election reality check.
If his numbers are as bad then as they are today, he’ll retire. Maybe take a cushy job with President Hillary Clinton’s administration.
You can see it coming.
Sherman Frederick is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media. Readers may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.SHERMAN FREDERICKMORE COLUMNS