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July 30, 2014

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POLITICS:

Over half disdain him, but Harry Reid could still win Senate race

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Lara Squires

Sen. Harry Reid’s unpopularity is reflected in signs across Nevada, such as this caricature in Tonopah. As majority leader, Reid has pushed policies unpopular at home, such as the economic stimulus.

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in a virtual tie with his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, according to most polls. But those surveys show him being trounced by another opponent — his own unpopularity.

The number of voters who have an unfavorable view of Reid exceeds 50 percent. That is a near fatal number in run-of-the-mill politics.

That doesn’t mean Reid is out of the race, however. Angle has never been tested in a statewide campaign, and she is viewed unfavorably by far more voters than view her favorably.

Still, it’s bad for Reid. Not only do more than half the voters dislike him, but a majority of those voters can be said to disdain him. And none is likely to change his or her mind before Nov. 2.

“The intensity is astonishingly high,” said one Democratic operative with access to private polling numbers. “That’s not to say you can’t win with that.”

The intensity of this resentment shows up not just in polls but also on roadside signs, bumper stickers and even cowboy poetry.

One homemade sign spanning a wall of hay bales in Yerington states: “Thank Reid. Send his ass home.” In Goldfield, along U.S. 95, another reads: “Will Rogers never met Harry Reid,” referring to the humorist’s quote: “I have never yet met a man that I didn’t like.”

Cowboy poet Freedom Bob of Pizen Switch, a burgh 20 miles southeast of Carson City, penned a poem praising America and Angle. The closing stanza includes the line: “Let’s send Harry and company campaigning in hell.”

Reid’s advisers counter that those who like the majority leader are just as unwavering in their admiration of him and commitment to his re-election.

What is fueling this animosity? Certainly the economy, with its accompanying record unemployment, is part of it.

Taking on the mantle of the Democratic Party as majority leader also has hurt. A charting of Reid’s negatives distinctly aligns with his rise in leadership.

Reid’s supporters say that in this regard Reid is a victim of his success — success that has benefited Nevada. Virtually no politician in today’s sharply partisan environment has risen to national stature without seeing his approval rating suffer.

The senator’s negatives began to spike shortly after he took over as minority leader after the 2004 election. They spiked again, this time to more than 50 percent, when he assumed the majority leader mantle after the 2006 election.

But the dislike appears to go beyond the typical antagonism toward incumbents.

Some Nevada voters seem to take personal offense at Reid’s evolution from the hometown-boy senator to national political figure. They say his priorities and his policy positions have evolved away from the state’s interests.

“I actually voted for Reid the first time he ran for Senate,” said Brook Enos of Gardnerville, who has lived in Nevada for 30 years. “I met him in a gun shop in Yerington. He said he would fight for Second Amendment rights, for grass-roots people. But it went downhill from there.”

In fact, Reid has been and continues to be a staunch supporter of gun rights, even as a Democratic leader. He has also split with his party on issues such as abortion (he opposes it) and mining regulation (the less, the better).

Still, Enos has come to see Reid as “a liar” and a “socialist.”

Reid has never been a beloved Nevada politician. He nearly lost his seat in 1998 to Republican John Ensign. But even in that close race, which Reid won by only 428 votes, he maintained an approval rating above 50 percent.

As majority leader, Reid has been in charge of pushing the Democratic agenda through Congress. Many of the party’s top initiatives — the bank bailout, economic stimulus and health care reform — have raised concerns about the deficit and been unpopular with Nevada voters.

Republican consultant Robert Uithoven said the dislike for Reid is focused most intensely on the policies, not on the man.

“Reid is unpopular for the same reason chocolate soda is unpopular,” he said. “People just don’t like it.”

Indeed, internal polls bear that out. Nevadans, who pride themselves on independence and lack of partisanship, aren’t happy with the health care bill, the stimulus and the spending to stabilize the financial industry.

One of Reid’s closest advisers, R&R Partners CEO Billy Vassiliadis, said Reid’s image began to suffer when, as the leader of the Democratic Party, he led the opposition to President George W. Bush and became the lightning rod for GOP attacks.

Billy Vassiliadis, the president and majority owner of R&R Partners, inside his office at R&R Partners in Las Vegas Friday, Aug. 21.

Billy Vassiliadis, the president and majority owner of R&R Partners, inside his office at R&R Partners in Las Vegas Friday, Aug. 21.

“He went through attack after attack after attack,” Vassiliadis said. “His role, sort of by his nature being the loyal opposition, was to go out there and engage with President Bush and others. Then folks started to view him basically as the guy you either love or hate.”

Then the recession hit. A bad economy pummels incumbents the hardest. Nevada has suffered more than any other state during this recession and Reid is in charge.

Echoing the Reid campaign’s central theme, Vassiliadis said the economic conditions make it crucial for Nevada to have the Senate majority leader to call on.

It frustrates him to hear voters say Reid is no longer interested in the state.

“He’s a national figure so they say, ‘that’s not my guy anymore,’ ” Vassiliadis said. “Well, yeah, that is your guy. Your guy built your railroad tracks in Reno. Your guy saved MGM. Your guy expanded McCarran. He’s spent a ton of time doing Nevada stuff.

“But our fight is back there (in Washington). He’s where we need him to be.”

Unfortunately for Reid, a majority of voters don’t see it that way. And the view is entrenched.

“He’s almost invisible as far as a Nevada senator,” said Jack VanDien of Gardnerville. “I’m sure he serves some very important people in Nevada. But he doesn’t serve the bulk of Nevada.”

That said, Reid is by no means out of the race. The four-term incumbent is up against a conservative ideologue, whom he has worked to brand as extremist and dangerous.

And even though more than half of voters don’t like him, Reid doesn’t necessarily need 50 percent of the vote to win this election. With a number of independent and third-party candidates on the ballot, as well as the “none of these candidates” option, Reid could squeak to victory with 40-something percent of the vote.

In the meantime, his strategy has been to destroy his opponent.

Although voters may hold Reid accountable for the economy, he is having some success convincing them that Angle, with her laissez-faire philosophy, would stand by and watch the economy crumble.

He’s spending millions of dollars on television to do it. As a result, Angle’s negatives have been climbing steadily.

“Times are tough,” Reid spokesman Kelly Steele said. “Sen. Reid gets that, which is why he is working every day to create jobs, keep people in their homes and get our economy moving again.”

When Congress returns from its break Sept. 13, Steele said, Reid will move a jobs bill to cut taxes on small businesses in an attempt to spur hiring.

“(It’s) a bill Sharron Angle opposes,” he said.

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