For a sense of the depth of political trouble Harry Reid faces back home—the latest poll shows more than half of Nevadans have an “unfavorable” view of him—you need only read the accounts of Democrats on the Las Vegas City Council discussing the ethics of buying off senators to support Obamacare.
Danny Tarkanian and Sue Lowden
“To me, that’s completely illegal,” fumed Councilman Gary Reese. “Senators are giving other senators large amounts of money for their votes.”
“Can they do that?” he asked rhetorically.
“They’ve done it,” declared popular mayor Oscar Goodman.
Of course the Senate majority leader doing the vote buying is none other than their own Harry Reid. Among the schemes these Las Vegas leaders found so outrageous: More than $300 million in new Medicaid funds for Senator Mary Landrieu in what is being called the “Louisiana Purchase”; another $100 million in extra Medicaid and tax breaks for Nebraska (the “Cornhusker Kickback”) to get the vote of Senator Ben Nelson.
This is the same Harry Reid who once defended his support of home state pork barrel spending by saying, “Would they rather that money go to New Orleans?” The problem for Reid is that since he began handing out favors to buy support for Obama-care, Nevadans have noted that their money is going more and more to New Orleans—and Omaha and Little Rock. When Republican senator Paul Laxalt left office in 1987, Nevada got back 98 cents for every dollar Nevadans paid to the federal Treasury. Now the state receives 65 cents—leading some to question the value of having, what Reid’s TV ads are calling, “the most powerful senator in the history of Nevada.”
Harry Reid has spent virtually all of the last 40 years on a government payroll. He was elected to the state assembly at age 28. Two years later in 1970 he was elected lieutenant governor. He later served (in terms of politics one might say survived) five years as chairman of the Nevada Gambling Commission in a time when the mob was involved in that industry. (Washington’s best-known Nevada Republican, former GOP national chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, is actively working for Reid’s reelection. Fahrenkopf is the top lobbyist for gambling interests. That’s Nevada politics for you.)
In Reid’s early years in Congress he was known as something of a moderate. He was described by the 1988 Almanac of American Politics as “somewhat conservative, especially on cultural issues” and voted for the first Gulf war. As he rose through the ranks of Senate Democrats, moderation disappeared from his playbook. He was an architect of the strategy blocking Bush judicial nominees. In 2007 he became a symbol of the destructiveness of antiwar Democrats when he declared the Iraq war to be “lost.” Weeks later the Bush surge strategy made Reid’s remarks obsolete.
But it has been his role as point man for President Obama’s spending and health care plans that have left Reid a marked man in the 2010 campaign.
There are no fewer than 11 Republicans running for the GOP nomination to oppose Reid. Pro-Reid TV ads have been up for months, both from his campaign and from union-funded special interests. Even so, three of the Republicans, who have yet to do any television, are substantially ahead of Reid in the most recent Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Former assembly member Sharron Angle has a five-point lead. She is a favorite of hard core conservatives though she lost her two most recent Republican primaries (for Congress in ’06 and state senate in ’08). She also has been damaged by links to the Church of Scientology. Running eight points ahead of Reid is Danny Tarkanian, son of the legendary (and infamous) UNLV basketball coach Jerry “the Shark” Tarkanian. Danny is a lawyer and businessman, but name identification accounts for much of his standing. As a Las Vegas political scientist noted, “If his name were Danny Smith he would not register in the polls.”
Danny is well liked—he was the point guard on his father’s first UNLV team to be ranked number one in the nation—but the name is also a negative. Under constant NCAA investigation for alleged rules infractions, the Shark was finally pushed out as the UNLV coach although he later would win a $2.5 million settlement in a lawsuit against the NCAA.
Then there is Sue Lowden, who is running ten points ahead of Reid and increasingly is becoming the face of the opposition to him. An accomplished Republican leader in the Nevada state senate, Lowden is well into her 50s, but anyone who sees her is unsurprised to learn she was once second runner-up in the Miss America pageant.
Her story is straight out of the American dream. Her grandparents arrived at Ellis Island from Lithuania early in the last century and made their way to Johnstown, Pa., where her grandfather got a job in the coal mines. He would work his way up to shipbuilding in Camden.