(John Fund) – In the end, I don’t believe Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will run for re-election. Whether or not the health care bill he muscled through the Senate becomes law, the 70-year-old will bow out of his race for a fifth term.
The major reason has nothing to do with his many verbal gaffes, the latest of which exploded over the weekend. The simple fact is that he probably can’t win re-election — almost no incumbent senator as far down in the polls has come back to win. Asked if Mr. Reid is finished, NBC Political Director Chuck Todd said yesterday, “I think so. I do — absolutely.”
A new Mason-Dixon survey of Nevada voters finds Mr. Reid’s favorable rating at just 33%, with 60% of voters disapproving of his role in the health-care debate. He trails three major GOP opponents jostling to run against him in their party’s primary. He loses 50% to 40% to former GOP state chair Sue Lowden, to real estate developer Danny Tarkanian by 49% to 41%, and by 45% to 40% to former state legislator Sharron Angle.
Extensive media buys by Mr. Reid to showcase his record of Senate accomplishment have done nothing to move his poll numbers.
Nevada political observers say Democrats are making contingency plans in case Mr. Reid leaves office, possibly recruiting one of the state’s two Democratic congresswomen to replace him. There’s even talk of coaxing former Democratic Senator and Nevada Governor Richard Bryan out of retirement to run.
Even worse, Mr. Reid’s weakness is dragging down the candidacy of his son Rory, a local Las Vegas official and the unopposed Democratic candidate for governor. In polls, the younger Reid loses to former judge Brian Sandoval, his likely Republican opponent, by 22 points. Should Las Vegas’ flamboyant Mayor Oscar Goodman run as an independent, Mr. Reid would place third with just 20% of the vote.
Nevada political columnist Jon Ralston says the prospect of having two Reids holding statewide office strikes many state voters as “very strange,” and the attempt to create a dynasty is hurting both men’s political chances. It’s “reverse symbiosis,” he told the Washington Post. Despite attempts to keep their political paths separate, the two men share a growing frustration that the family name no longer is a desirable brand.
Rory Reid insists he’s in the race to stay, and says his father will also press on: “My father is a fighter.” But that’s what they said about scandal-plagued Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who was said to resist strongly any suggestion that he retire given that his father lost his Senate seat in 1970 under a similar ethical cloud. Yet last week the 68-year-old Mr. Dodd recognized political reality and announced his retirement.
Mr. Reid must know that his candidacy is dragging down his son’s chances of political advancement. His political weakness and missteps are also stirring rumblings of discontent inside the Democratic caucus.
Two Democratic Senators have told me that it’s no secret that New York Senator Chuck Schumer is maneuvering to take over from Mr. Reid as Majority Leader, and that even should Mr. Reid win another term, he faces a possible challenge for his leadership post. Such a challenge would be conducted by secret ballot, putting Mr. Reid in the position of potentially suffering an ignominious defeat at the hands of his colleagues.
Because he’s from a gambling state like Nevada, Mr. Reid knows all about the country song that says “You have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.” Look for Mr. Reid to find an opportune moment to fold his hand in the next few months.
(Mr. Fund is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal and senior columnist for Political Diary)