Tuesday, July 20, 2010 | 2 a.m.
For Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is betting his political life on convincing voters he can deliver for Nevada, each uptick in the state’s unemployment rate is a potential nail in the coffin of his re-election bid.
Republicans, hoping to make the economy the deciding issue of the race, seized on news Monday that Nevada’s worst-in-the-nation unemployment rate had risen yet again, to 14.2 percent.
Republican opponent Sharron Angle said in a news release: “Harry Reid likes to brag that ‘no one can do more,’ and if you’re one of the small businesses feeling besieged by this current economic climate or one of the nearly 200,000 Nevadans struggling to find a job, these new unemployment numbers serve as a reminder that the state can’t afford six more years of Harry Reid.”
It’s a message that will certainly resonate with some voters.
Unfortunately for Reid, Republicans will likely have ample opportunity between now and November to use the dreary economic indicator against him.
Nevada’s chief labor economist, Bill Anderson, said Nevada’s unemployment crisis isn’t expected to abate until well after the election. It appears the best Reid can hope for in the meantime is that the unemployment rate stops getting worse.
At this point, the only bright spot is that the monthly jumps in unemployment aren’t as large, Anderson said.
Assuming Reid can’t instantly force tens of thousands of new jobs into the economy through legislation, or spur a wider economic turnaround, what’s left for his campaign to do?
“There’s not a good answer here,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report.
The answer in the Reid campaign is to target multiple flanks.
First, they’re pointing the finger at others they say should share in the blame. The economic devastation was wrought by abuses on Wall Street, for example. And the Bush administration handed the Democratic majority an economy in shambles and a massive budget deficit.
Second, the campaign is touting everything Reid has done on job-creating projects or legislation. For example, is TV ads call attention to his helping CityCenter secure financing when the project was in peril and his efforts to develop a renewable energy industry in the state.
Third, the campaign is trying to convince voters that Angle and her laissez-faire positions would do little to help struggling Nevadans.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers hit all three themes in an interview Monday.
Summers defended the Senate majority leader’s record on jobs, arguing that without the projects Reid has brought to the state, Nevada’s unemployment would be even higher. “What Sen. Reid has done is prevent a bad situation from getting worse,” he said, noting Reid’s work bringing clean energy projects to Nevada.
“People understand that there are things out of Sen. Reid’s control,” Summers said. “I think most people understand Nevada’s economy is highly dependent on the national economy and the economy of other states.”
Summers said “abuses on Wall Street” were a “key factor” leading to the state’s economic distress. He said the financial reform bill that passed this month will help hold banks accountable.
Summers also attacked Angle for saying it’s not a senator’s role to create jobs and that she wouldn’t have called banks to save CityCenter when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. (Instead, she has said that the Senate should create a business-friendly atmosphere so the private sector can then create jobs.)
Duffy said the best hope for incumbents in general, and Democratic incumbents in particular, is that most voters aren’t single-issue voters, even if the economy is the top issue this election.
“You could, for example, feel strongly about jobs but look at Reid and think that perhaps, looking at the big picture of the economy, he’s the better choice,” Duffy said.
Also, voters’ perceptions of the economy include far more than unemployment numbers, she said.
“It’s jobs, housing, the stock market, how their 401(k) is doing, how secure they feel,” she said. “Voters throw a lot in that pie.”
That said, a drumbeat of headlines screaming about record unemployment does make it difficult to feel secure.
“In terms of our own internal perceptions of what’s going on, I think it shows that there are countless numbers of Nevadans that are suffering,” Anderson said.