Things are looking grim for the embattled Senate Majority Leader.
It’s not easy being Senator Harry Reid these days. First, the four-term incumbent finds himself locked in a desperate reelection campaign against Republican Sharon Angle, with polls showing the race a statistical dead heat. Now, he has to go on television to remind Nevada voters to please not hold him accountable for their economic woes.
Apparently, many of them were under the mistaken impression that Reid, as Senate Majority Leader in partnership with a Democratic House and President, would have some role in shaping national economic policy.
However, in an interview with Jonathan Karl of ABC news, Reid was quick to disabuse anyone of that notion when he said “You know I had nothing to do with the massive foreclosures here. You know I had nothing to do with these unemployment figures…I think it’s a stretch to think I caused the problems with this economy.”
Now, for a politician to take credit during a rollicking good economy and begin pointing fingers when it tanks is usually par for the course. In that regard, Reid may be forgiven for trying to take the focus off himself and shift it elsewhere -- anywhere -- to not get swept up in the political tsunami most are now predicting will befall the Democratic Party.
So, in an effort to clarify who was really at fault for the economic mess, Reid laid the blame squarely at the feet of the man Democrats believe to be at the root of every ill in the country: George W. Bush. Unfortunately for Reid, unless the entire state of Nevada suddenly develops a collective case of amnesia and forgets which Party has been running things the last two years, it’s going to be a difficult task to successfully shift the blame to Dubya this time around.
The Bush card, like the race card, has begun to lose the cachet it once held for Democrats. Accountability seems to be the new buzzword that’s captured the public fancy this election season. It’s but one reason why Harry has ditched trumpeting his part in the current economic maelstrom in order to emphasize his real role as innocent bystander blindsided by the evil George Bush.
Accepting this strategy must still have been a very bitter pill for Reid to swallow. It’s a cardinal rule among politicians seeking reelection to remind their constituents of the sway they hold on the levers of government. It’s a sign of their ability to bring the goods back home. To hear the Senate Majority Leader openly acknowledge his political impotence was somewhat startling, but not all too surprising.
But what else is Reid supposed to do? Nevada’s economy is abysmal. The state leads the nation in unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosures, and credit card delinquencies, a superfecta of economic misery. He has become, along with Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, the personification of the anti-Washington, anti-Democratic sentiment sweeping the nation.
The Reid name itself has become so toxic that even his son Rory, running for governor of Nevada, has scrupulously avoided using the family name. He first eschewed using it in his first television ad, and then followed up by not including it in his campaign literature, hopefully assuming the voters are just dumb enough to not draw any unwanted links. Apparently, the tactic hasn’t quite worked out as planned, as Rory is trailing his Republican challenger, Brian Sandoval, by around 22 points in the latest polls.
The only name perhaps less popular in Nevada is "Obama." The President has not particularly endeared himself to Nevadans with his advice that Americans to spend their money in better places than Las Vegas. For a state mired in an economic depression, it’s not the way you want to be singled out. The predicable ensuing furor even forced Reid to proclaim, "The President needs to lay off Las Vegas and stop making it the poster child for where people shouldn't be spending their money."
To that end, Reid has tried to create some distance between himself and Obama, as he did in August when he came out publicly against the building of the Mosque at the World Trade Center site. Yet outside this issue and the flap over the Vegas comments, Reid has been joined at the hip to Obama. His body of work as water carrier for the expansionist Obama Agenda can’t seem to extricate himself from that position. As the polls continue to demonstrate, it doesn’t look like it has.
Conventional wisdom says any incumbent with a negative rating above 50% is doomed and Reid now sits at 51%. With a twenty year record and name recognition burned into the consciousness of Nevadans, he is not going to erase those unfavorables in eight weeks. His only option for victory is to bring Sharon Angle’s negatives down to his level and his campaign has worked mightily to that end, attempting to portray Angle as some crazed religious wing nut.
Angle, a Tea Party-backed candidate whom GOP leaders felt wasn’t their strongest challenger to Reid, didn’t help herself much to combat this view early in the campaign. Although she has become a better campaigner, more articulate in stating her positions, and forceful in defending them, the negative assault has made some impact as noted by the latest Rasmussen poll. Despite these incremental inroads, Reid still faces a very tough uphill climb, even though it may be hard to count out a man so politically entrenched and well-financed with a large union base of support that can cause some mischief on election day.
A negative strategy can only last so long when the incumbent is being held accountable for shepherding an extremely unpopular economic policy through Congress and the attendant economic mess it created. It’s also not as effective in registering with voters when coming from a candidate with Reid’s own high negatives. Finally, in a close election, turnout is key and voter enthusiasm is much stronger in Angle’s base of conservatives and independents than it is in the labor heavy support of Reid.
The problem for Harry Reid and for many other Democrats on the election trail is fairly simple. With an openly disdainful view of the citizen protests that sprung up to stop it, they enacted a hugely unpopular legislative agenda that resulted in an overwhelming national debt and a severe economic downturn. Despite the numerous warning signs that doing so would entail political suicide, they held hands and jumped off the cliff together.
In the end, no amount of shifting blame or downplaying their role in this circus sideshow will end up saving them. Like Harry Reid, they are about to learn this lesson the hard way come November.