Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009 | 11:28 a.m.
WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s re-election chances entered dicey terrain this afternoon when the non-partisan Cook Political Report took the dramatic step of rating his 2010 race a “toss up.”
Even without a Republican challenger, Reid’s poor job approval ratings and a deteriorating environment for Democrats nationally prompted the new listing.
Cook said polling on Reid’s popularity among Nevada voters show “some of the worst numbers of any incumbent up this cycle.”
Cook moved the Nevada Senate race up two notches on its rating scale – from a seat that would “likely” go Democratic, skipping over “leans” Democratic category, to land at “toss up.”
Cook senior analyst Jennifer Duffy acknowledged “it is a bigger kind of move than we usually do.”
But Duffy said polling over the past year among Nevada voters “has shown absolutely no improvement” for Reid.
“The fact that he trails two Republican challengers whose name ID doesn’t crack 50 percent is a very, very bad sign,” Duffy said.
Recent polling has shown Reid losing in match-ups to potential Republican candidates, including Danny Tarkanian, the former UNLV basketball player and son of the legendary coach, and Sue Lowden, the state’s Republican Party chairman.
Reid has dismissed these polls, and his own campaign numbers show him breaking even or beating the potential Republican contenders.
Reid is amassing $25 million for his re-election in a race that will draw donations from Republicans nationally trying to oust him.
Several other potential Republicans have indicated an interest in the race, including state Sen. Mark Amodei, who announced his candidacy on Wednesday.
The Cook report notes that with Lowden’s skills as a former TV news anchor “she is undoubtedly much more polished on camera than the incumbent… one can’t help but feel that she is national Republicans’ first choice.”
The robust Republican field could lead to a brutal primary contest. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has refrained from backing a candidate after its top pick, Rep. Dean Heller, declined to run.
Both Tarkanian and Lowden are coming to Washington next week to meet with Republican campaign officials.
“Democrats have forgotten the lessons they taught Republicans,” Duffy said. “In bad political environments, you don’t need a first-tier candidate to beat a vulnerable one.”
Reid’s campaign manager said ratings from a national pundit won’t influence Nevada voters.
“Voters are going to send Reid back to the Senate, not national pundits,” said campaign manager Brandon Hall.
Some Democratic strategists doubt Reid’s chances have narrowed as much as the Cook outlook suggests, particularly given the untested field of Republican challengers.
“We said from the very beginning we knew we were going to have a tough campaign,” Hall said. “We believe voters will go into the voting booth with the question: Who will best serve Nevada? We’re confident the answer is: Senator Reid.”