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October 25, 2014

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Still on Reid’s side: Friends — and juice for Nevada

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., talks with carpenters as the senator tours the terminal under construction at McCarran International.

Reid Visits New McCarran Terminal

Senator Harry Reid listens to McCarran International Airport deputy director Rosemary Vassiliadis as they tour the airport's new terminal Tuesday, January 12, 2009. Launch slideshow »

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No question about it, Harry Reid has had a bad few days:

A new poll showed the Senate majority leader’s favorable rating in Nevada at 33 percent, and reports emerged of some awkward comments he made coming to light in a new book — that Barack Obama was a good presidential candidate because he is a light-skinned black man who has no “Negro dialect” except when he wants to.

Next, the ritual of racial healing: An apology from Reid, forgiveness from the president, a few condemnations from Republicans, a supportive cameo by Al Sharpton.

The episode surely didn’t help Reid’s 2010 re-election bid. He was struggling with his Democratic base, of which blacks are a vital part.

As the past few days have demonstrated, however, Reid has the influence both here and in Washington to call in chits, show his value to the state and change the subject, which is the first rule of political scandal.

Black elected officials, civil rights leaders and liberal activists, whom Reid has courted for decades, promptly came out to defend him, calling his remarks unfortunate but saying Reid has not a racist bone in his body. (Social scientists have noted the truth of Reid’s statements.)

His long friendship with Sen. John Ensign, and his silence about Ensign’s extramarital affair with a campaign aide, also came in handy this week. The state’s junior senator, a Republican, defended Reid.

Then there were the displays of the power of Reid’s office: Monday he announced financing he helped secure for transmission lines between Southern Nevada and White Pine County. The lines have been sought for generations and should spur renewable energy development.

Tuesday he was at the airport to tour the half-finished terminal, his juice on full display in a town still small enough that power brokers all know one another.

Who introduced him? Deputy airport Director Rosemary Vassiliadis, wife of one of his chief political advisers, lobbyist and public relations executive Billy Vassiliadis.

She said the airport was having trouble getting financing at its inception, so airport authorities called “911 Reid,” and he delivered with stimulus money.

Who approved the airport project to begin with? The County Commission, whose chairman is Reid’s son Rory Reid.

“As the home of the entertainment capital of the world and one of the greatest tourist destinations on Earth, travel is the fuel that makes Nevada’s economic engine run,” he said with the aid of a strong microphone that overcame the din of construction equipment.

He touted the 1,800 jobs the project created.

(The $2.4 billion project is being paid for with airport fees, including those imposed on the airlines, as well as gaming, advertising and concession receipts from existing facilities. Left unsaid: The airlines urged the County Commission to reconsider the project in 2008 because of the steep drop in tourism demand, which has only now begun recovering.)

At the airport, reporters shouted questions about Reid’s awkward remarks. He ignored them. No doubt the media will move on.

Still, Reid will need to bring home even more bacon if he is to win re-election.

Stu Rothenberg, a national political handicapper, has shifted the race to “leans Republican.”

Dave Damore, a UNLV political scientist, acknowledged that Reid is having trouble with his Democratic base, but he said he doubts that Reid’s recent gaffe will matter in the long run.

“The election is in 10 months and it won’t be decided on this,” he said.

He added, “At the end of the day, it’s not going to improve the quality of his opponents,” referring to Republicans Sue Lowden, Danny Tarkanian and Sharron Angle, among others. None is considered top-tier, though each beats Reid in head-to-head matchups, according to a recent Review-Journal poll.

The key issues for Reid, Damore said: jobs and the economy. “Does the stimulus kick in and can they show some progress on that?” Damore said. “That’s the more important issue.”

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