On One Hand

January 15, 2010

How Harry Reid could Keep his Senate Seat

Filed under: elections — ononehand @ 4:48 pm
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It’s not looking good for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is up for re-election in November despite polls that show him trailing major potential Republican candidates.

Democrats in general have seen a precipitous drop in favorability in Nevada since the 2008 elections. The tourism-based economy and rapid population growth Nevada experienced over the last decade set the state to be hit especially hard by a national economic downturn, and unemployment is considerably higher than the national average. That isn’t really the Democrats’ fault and certainly isn’t Harry Reid’s fault, but voters almost always punish the incumbent party for economic woes – and Barack Obama, who got 55 percent of the vote in Nevada, is down to a 44-percent approval rating, an 11-point drop. (Meanwhile Obama’s national approval ratings are only 3 points lower than his 2008 share of the vote; he won with 52 percent and is currently averaging 48-49 percent approval nationwide.)

The numbers Reid faces don’t automatically spell disaster for Democratic incumbents, as Reid won re-election in Nevada in 2004 with 61 percent of the vote even as President Bush beat John Kerry there by 2.5 percent. But Reid has since gotten himself a lower-than-average favorability rating as a Democrat. People on the left consider him to be a timid majority leader, and recent revelations of his pre-2008 gaffes about Barack Obama and race don’t help. Beyond that, there are always voters who wish their state’s representative would focus on their state rather than on national issues as a majority leader.

One way Reid could win some favor in his state is by offering to resign his Senate leadership to do just that – focus on Nevada. His announcement would say “Nevada has served a crucial role in national policy by having one of its senators serve as majority leader, but six years is sacrifice enough and now it’s time for Harry Reid to focus on Nevada again.”

A simple internal poll could test this message by asking Nevadans “if Harry Reid were to resign his senate chairmanship to focus exclusively on serving Nevada as senator, would you see this as a favorable or unfavorable move?” and as a follow-up question to determine how many likely voters would vote to keep Reid in office if he did resign the chairmanship. If the numbers are good, or even just okay, Reid should do it.

Senate majority leader is a powerful position in the senate and might be tough to give up, but Reid is backed into a corner. He can’t be Senate Majority Leader if he’s no longer in the Senate anyway. Ask Tom Dashle, the Democratic senate majority leader from South Dakota who lost his seat to a Republican in 2004, if its harder to lose his status as a senator entirely or just resign the chairmanship.

Either way, it would be considerably less humiliating for Democrats if Harry Reid were no longer senate majority leader and then lost the seat.

Beyond that, Reid should announce that Republicans promise to obstruct Democratic efforts to pass important jobs bills that are yet to move through the Senate, and it is vital to the interests of all working and unemployed Nevadans to keep the seat Democratic. Reid should promise that he will not run again if Nevadans show that they would not re-elect him and another Democrat would do better. Of course it is almost certain that Reid would not make this kind of statement until the point at which he actually decides not to continue in the Senate – which probably won’t happen anyway.

Hanging on to Senate seats will be of particular interest for Democrats in 2010 as the GOP’s obstructionist agenda promises to capitalize on any chance to oppose Barack Obama’s policies. Keeping Nevada in Democratic hands will be important this year, and the tremendous surge in voter registration Democrats enjoyed in Nevada before the 2008 elections would make losing their majority leader’s seat an especially bitter pill to swallow.

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