Late last month a poll by the firm mason Dixon, for the Review-Journal, showed that only 35 percent of respondents planned to vote for Nevada Sen. Harry Reid when he defends his Senate seat in next year’s election; 45 percent said they would vote against him. Bolstered by this latest sign that suggests Reid’s popularity is waning, local Republicans sound confident that Reid’s days may be numbered. “Any reputable candidate who has the wherewithal to run a good race will be competitive,” says Bernie Zadrowski, chair of the Clark County Republican Party.
What’s lost in the stats, of course, is whether the Republicans can field anyone who has a chance to beat Reid. Sue Lowden, who runs the state GOP (and who has been mentioned as a potential candidate herself), says four candidates are likely. The first two are up-and-comers: Mark Amodei, a Northern Nevada attorney and state senator since 1999, and Ely investment banker John Chachas, who spends part of his time working in New York. But the two big names are Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki and Congressman Dean Heller.
Of course, Krolicki is still dealing with charges from the state attorney general’s office that he misused state funds while serving as Nevada’s treasurer. However, a Nevada judge ruled the AG’s office cannot lead prosecution efforts against him.
Which leaves Heller. The Nevada native has already served two terms as secretary of state and has statewide campaign resources in place to raise money. Zadrowski says it’s Heller’s if he wants it.
There’s no hurry, though. Zadrowski says the party wants to have a candidate ready to go by October or November. What GOP leaders don’t want, says Lowden, is a “very expensive primary where someone comes in and spends a million dollars on a primary …”
So why the bad numbers on Reid, anyway? Republicans depict a leader out of touch with libertarian Nevadans, and in thrall to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Any success Reid has had in helping to put Yucca Mountain on ice is countered, they say, by reports that Nevadans’ per capita share of federal stimulus dollars is just about the lowest in the nation. (Nevertheless, jobs expected to be created in the state, per capita, are second highest in the nation.)
Others offer a more nuanced perspective, noting that in his role as Senate majority leader—the No. 2 Democrat in the country after the president—Reid has had to take on a more partisan role than he might have otherwise, which may have alienated local voters.
Still, many think that Reid won’t go easily, if he goes at all. Democratic consultant Dan Hart notes that “the campaign hasn’t been very active to this point. I expect you’ll see a lot more activity between now and the election. I think those numbers will change.”
Observers expect a lot of money to pour into the state on both sides of the campaign. Ryan Erwin, a Republican political consultant, says Reid is “absolutely vulnerable. … Anytime you have an incumbent under 50 [percent in polls], it almost always spells trouble.” But Erwin also notes that none of that means Reid will lose. “He’s tough as nails.” Erwin expects a “52-48 race, probably.”
Reid raised nearly $2 million for his campaign at last week’s Barack Obama-led fundraiser at Caesars Palace, on top of some $5 million already in his war chest. Reid spokesman Jon Summers notes that Reid knows is ready for a fight. “He knows he’s got a target on his back. He has for a while, and he’s gonna put together an aggressive campaign.”