Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the nation’s most powerful Democrats, is in danger of losing his seat to either a former Miss America runner-up or the son of a famous basketball coach who never has held high public office.
At least that what a recent poll says.
The Nevada lawmaker, who will be seeking a fifth term in office November 2010, is trailing Republican challenger Danny Tarkanian, scion of the legendary Jerry Tarkanian, former hoops coach at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, by 11 percent points, according to a poll taken in mid-August by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc.
Mr. Reid also would lose by five points to Sue Lowden, the Nevada Republican Party chairwoman and a former state senator, the poll shows.
So is the career of Nevada’s senior statesman doomed? Don’t bet on it, political experts say.
“Is he vulnerable? Yes. Is he a lame duck? Absolutely not,” said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada at Reno.
“One thing you have to remember is, Harry Reid has never been this overwhelmingly popular politician. He’s never had real good numbers, and yet he still wins,” Mr. Herzik said. “With most politicians, looking at these numbers, I’d be saying, ‘Oh, they’re in serious trouble.’ For Harry Reid, it’s like, ‘OK, he’s going to have to have his usual tough re-election fight.’”
UNLV political science professor David Damore agreed that Mr. Reid’s chances of victory next year are “pretty safe.”
“He’s done a nice job structuring the [political] environment that’s going to make it tough for the Republicans to win, even if things go very, very poorly in the Senate on, say, health care or something along those lines,” he said.
The soft-spoken senator from the Nevada hamlet of Searchlight appears mild-mannered, even meek, on the surface. But those who know the man describe his uncanny instinct for political survival and his insatiable will to win — which some have called ruthless.
The senator’s quiet temper occasionally results in unwanted attention. Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal — which boasts a conservative-leaning opinion section — reported on Sunday that Mr. Reid told its advertising director at a Chamber of Commerce gathering, “I hope you go out of business.”
“Harry Reid’s not the best campaigner, he’s not the most personable guy you’re ever going to meet … and so if an election is close, he’s got to work all that much harder,” Mr. Herzik said. “But that’s what Harry Reid does best — organize and work.”
A lack of political heavyweights willing to challenge Mr. Reid is a big reason why many election handicappers predict he will retain his seat.
Jennifer Duffy, who covers Senate races for the Cook Political Report, says Mr. Tarkanian’s early lead is largely a reflection of his popular surname — not an endorsement of his political qualities.
“I don’t know how serious a candidate he is — he’s run for two offices and lost both races,” Ms. Duffy said. “I don’t detect a lot of enthusiasm for Tarkanian.”