For Nevada Democrats, November’s election may prove that something more toxic than one Reid on the party’s ticket is two.
Polls show Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, 70, struggling in his bid for a fifth term, with disapproval ratings hovering around 50 percent. Efforts to rescue him reach to the White House: President Barack Obama spoke at a campaign rally for Reid tonight at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Absent was the state’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Rory Reid, who was greeting supporters in the Washoe Valley more than 450 miles away. He is Harry Reid’s son.
The Reids have been keeping their distance from one another. They’ve attended few events together, and the first statewide television advertisement for Rory Reid, 47, made no mention of his last name.
Still, the family ticket “plays into the narrative that this is not about Nevada, this is about the Reids,” said David Damore, an assistant political science professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Harry Reid is a top national target for Republicans, who say defeating him would underscore public discontent with Democrats. To hold onto his seat, Reid is focusing less on his record of guiding Obama’s priorities through the Senate and more on benefits he’s delivered back home.
Reid supporters say he caught a break when Sharron Angle, 60, a Tea Party favorite, won the Republican primary race last month. A former state legislator, Angle wants to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education and has called for privatizing Social Security for younger Americans.
Still, with anti-incumbent fervor evident across the U.S., Reid is battling voter discontent over the economy and the government’s efforts to fix it. Headwinds facing him include a 14 percent unemployment rate in Nevada, higher than June’s 9.5 percent for the U.S., and the nation’s highest home foreclosure rate. One out of every 79 Nevada households was in foreclosure in May, roughly five times the national average, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc..
Nevada’s gaming revenue fell 10.4 percent last year, according to the state Gaming Control Board, the largest single- year decline in state history. The decline followed a 9.7 percent decrease in 2008.
Obama told guests at a Democratic fundraiser in Las Vegas tonight that Reid is a “straight shooter” who’s helped enact policies that are moving the economy in the right direction.
“This is a choice between the policies that led us into the mess or the policies that are leading us out of the mess,” Obama said. “This is the choice between falling backward or moving forward.”
Before Obama’s visit, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined Harry Reid today in announcing a new solar energy demonstration project in the state this morning. Not attending: Rory Reid.
The two Cabinet members said the elder Reid has helped make Nevada the “point of the spear” for the renewable energy industry in the U.S. “He knows first and foremost that Nevada is number one,” said Salazar, speaking to an audience at UNLV.
Reid said the new solar site, to be located in the state’s southwest corner, will immediately create 1,000 jobs and eventually generate “thousands and thousands” more.
Rory Reid, in his campaigning, is trying to persuade voters fed up with Democrats in Washington to vote for one at home -- a task made tougher by his familial link to a national party leader.
“When Harry says Rory’s on his own, do you really think people of average intelligence are going for that?” said Mark Amodei, the state Republican Party chairman.
Harry Reid has stressed that his son, who presides over zoning issues and local budget matters from a Las Vegas office as chairman of the Clark County Commission, is running for the governor’s office without his help.
“He is my son, I care a great deal about him,” he said after a rare joint appearance at the state Democratic convention last month. “He will be a great governor, but he has to run his own campaign.”
Some family friends say Harry Reid would have preferred that Rory skip the governor’s race, in which he faces Republican Brian Sandoval, 46, the state’s former attorney general.
The elder Reid, though, “would never go to him and tell him not to run, it’s just not what he would do,” said Sig Rogich, a Nevada-based Republican consultant who is a friend of the senator and supports his re-election. “It probably isn’t the best situation.”
Bumper stickers and campaign banners for the younger Reid say simply “Rory 2010.” And his biography on his campaign website makes no mention of his father.
“He is trying to define himself as an individual aside from his dad,” said Dan Hart, a Nevada-based Democratic consultant. “It’s more of a search to define himself than a repudiation of his dad.”
Luis Hernandez, a cab driver in Las Vegas, said having both father and son on the ticket was a “doubled-edged sword” that could help Rory Reid with name recognition among voters who don’t know him as well.
He also said voters remain much more concerned with the economy than family ties. Hernandez says he’s still frustrated with Obama for comments he made last year that companies should not use government rescue funds for trips to conventions in Las Vegas.
“That really hurt us,” said Hernandez. “We need the travelers to work.”
Both Reids have built strong alliances with the state’s casino industry. Top donors to Harry Reid’s campaign include the political action committees and employees of MGM Resorts International, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. and Boyd Gaming Corp.
Rory Reid had nearly five times as much cash on hand as Sandoval at the end of May, the most recent available figures. He also enjoyed the exclusive support of MGM’s political action committee, which gave him $45,000 in contributions.
Even as he de-emphasizes his last name, Rory Reid hopes to benefit from his father’s work to revitalize Nevada’s Democratic Party. Harry Reid began that quest after a strong Republican showing in the state’s 2002 elections.
The elder Reid recruited women and Hispanics to run for lower offices as a way to increase Democratic turnouts. He led the push for Nevada to conduct a Democratic presidential caucus early in the 2008 campaign, a decision that led the Obama campaign to build an extensive operation in the state. Democrats are now concentrating on getting those voters to turn out for the midterm election.
“They’ve got the Cadillac of all machines,” said Amodei, the Republican state chairman.