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November 23, 2014

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As the Reids seek office, who hurts whom?

Each Reid’s campaign sees a potential obstacle in the other’s

Click to enlarge photo

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, left, Sen. John Ensign, center, and Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, right, listen to a speaker during the dedication of the Clark County Shooting Park at the north end of Decatur Boulevard Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009.

Reid, Salazar announce funding

From left, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) talk Friday with George and Bernice Stewart at the Searchlight Nugget. Reid and  Salazar were in town to formalize payment of $135.9 million for projects throughout Nevada, funded by the auction of federal land in the Las Vegas Valley. Launch slideshow »

Clark County Shooting Park

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) holds up his childhood .22 caliber rifle during the dedication of the Clark County Shooting Park at the north end of Decatur Boulevard Tuesday. Launch slideshow »

Chamber of Commerce luncheon

Sen. Harry Reid speaks at a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday at the Four Seasons. Launch slideshow »

According to sources close to Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign, the gubernatorial ambitions of son Rory Reid, the Clark County Commission chairman, have emerged as a point of considerable hand wringing among advisers who view it as an obstacle to the U.S. Senate majority leader’s reelection.

Expecting Sen. Reid to face a tight reelection race, his advisers see Rory Reid’s presence on the 2010 ballot, in the cold calculus of political campaigns, as one in a series of preelection risks. It’s a view that some are spreading throughout Nevada political circles.

Polling shows Sen. Reid trailing his Republican challengers. His favorability rating, by one count, is 37 percent.

The reasoning behind the concern: Voters don’t like dynasties. Besides, advisers say, recent polling has Rory Reid trailing possible Democratic opponents in the race for governor by double digits.

Not surprisingly, the talk rankles Rory Reid’s camp, which sees the senator’s unpopularity as a potential drag on its candidate.

Political observers agree the son faces the greater danger.

“The argument is: Like father, like son,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “Voters may project their feelings about Harry Reid onto Rory Reid, and with that comes those problematic polling numbers.”

Indeed, Rory Reid’s campaign plans to make clear to the rest of the state what Clark County political insiders already know: He’s his own man.

In 2002, he ran for a County Commission seat against the wishes of his father, who considered the chamber a political graveyard. Five years later, as Nevada prepared for its first-ever early presidential caucus, Reid gave his father a political headache by taking the chairmanship of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Sen. Reid had pledged to remain neutral in the contest — and his son’s endorsement risked being seen as a pass-through nod from the Senate majority leader. The move created problems for Sen. Reid in Washington, where he had to assure the three other Democratic senators in the race that he was, in fact, keeping his powder dry.

By most accounts, father and son have a close relationship, talking often but keeping the conversation focused on family. After joining the Clinton campaign, Rory Reid explained the dynamic this way: “I don’t tell him what to do in Washington, and he doesn’t tell me what to do in Nevada.”

In an interview, Rory Reid recounted a recent conversation with his father, saying the senator was more interested in the 3 1/2-pound trout his grandchild caught on a fishing trip to Utah than he was in any potential dynasty effect in 2010.

Billy Vassiliadis, a longtime friend of Harry Reid’s and consultant to the senator’s campaigns, said the elder Reid is proud of his son’s political accomplishments and respects Rory Reid’s independence.

“He views Rory as a man who has to make his own decisions,” Vassiliadis said. “Like any dad, he doesn’t want to be viewed as someone who is potentially hindering his son. But the senator is preparing for his campaign, and his adult son, who he loves and respects, needs to make his own decisions.”

Sen. Reid dismissed perceptions of a dynasty outright Thursday at a union rally in downtown Las Vegas. He told reporters, “Anyone concerned about a Reid dynasty should visit Searchlight,” the tiny Southern Nevada town where Sen. Reid grew up.

But sources close to the senator’s campaign say the issue, as one meeting participant put it, is “gnawing” at the campaign. And advisers are befuddled over how to address it, for fear of angering Sen. Reid.

Brandon Hall, Sen. Reid’s campaign manager, acknowledged the discussions but insisted the two campaigns maintain cordial relations. “We have a good relationship,” he said. “There are discussions on how to deal with (the ballot) issue, but there is no tension between the two camps.”

Duffy said political dynasties are a mixed bag.

In Missouri, for instance, the Carnahans are the ruling family. In 2000, Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash while campaigning for the U.S. Senate, but won election posthumously. His wife, Jean, was appointed to the seat. His son, Russ, is a congressman. His daughter, Robin, is Missouri’s secretary of state and running for Senate.

In Ohio, on the other hand, a family name has backfired. When Pat DeWine, a Republican county commissioner in Cincinnati, aimed for a congressional seat in 2005, his defeat was widely attributed to backlash against his father, then-Sen. Mike DeWine. The senator angered his Republican base when he joined a group of lawmakers who allowed Democrats to retain filibuster power in exchange for a full Senate vote on three Bush judicial appointees.

In Nevada, Sen. Reid’s advisers worry that the electorate will have little tolerance for political dynasties in the age of Obama. Voters, they say, might see Rory Reid’s run as an extension of Sen. Reid’s political machine, which remade the state Democratic Party into an electoral juggernaut in the past few years.

None of this concerns Rory Reid. He’s got $3 million in the bank and he’s running.

“Ultimately, voters aren’t going to make choices based on a candidate’s genealogy,” he said. “People will make a decision based on who has the best qualifications and the best vision for the future.”

Months ago, when Rory Reid told his father that he planned to run for governor and thus appear on the same November ballot, it was hardly a movie moment.

“It wasn’t that dramatic,” Rory Reid said. “It was just a father and son talking about their futures ... I’m nearly 50 years old and this is what I’m doing. I think he respects that.”

Harry Reid recently called his son to express solidarity: “Well, we jumped off the cliff together. Let’s hold hands.”

Sun reporter David McGrath Schwartz contributed to this story.

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