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Healthcare reform adds to troubles of Senators Reid and Dodd

Sens. Harry Reid and Christopher Dodd are leading the charge for a healthcare reform bill. But that makes it hard for them to run as moderates in 2010, when both will face tough reelection campaigns.

By Staff writer / October 15, 2009

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut (c.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada (r.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, speak to reporters about health care reform legislation, Thursday, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Washington

Two of the three Democrats charged with producing a Senate healthcare bill to take to the floor – Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut – face tough reelection bids in 2010.

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Senate leaders are used to being lightening rods. But the overhaul of the US healthcare system sets up a perfect storm of competing interests, especially for Democrats.

As leader of a 60-member majority, Senator Reid has the votes to move major legislation. But his caucus is divided on issues ranging from costs of the plan to the scope of a public option.

This week, progressive activists rallied outside Senator Reid’s office building to call for the expulsion of moderates who vote against the bill. Liberal bloggers ramped up calls for Reid’s dismissal if he fails to include a robust public option. Labor unions called on Democrats to reject a proposed tax on generous health plans – something moderate Democrats deem essential.

At the same time, Reid has to keep an eye on politics at home, where constituents face one of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation.

Last month, Reid improved the health bill for Nevada by winning assurances that Nevada would be one of only four states to be fully funded by the federal government for the first five years of expansion of Medicaid – a key element in plans to expand health coverage.

Reid pledged to Nevadans that state budgets would not be hard hit by this new requirement.

Asked today whether carrying the load for the Democrats as majority was worth ending his career in the Senate, Reid said, “All my polling numbers are fine, and I’m continuing to do the best I can for the people of this country and the people of Nevada.”

But political analysts say that Reid’s approval ratings are are registering only in the mid-30s against lesser known challengers. On Sunday, a Mason Dixon poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review Journal had Reid losing to Nevada Republican chairwoman Sue Lowden by 10 points and to GOP businessman Danny Tarkanian by 5 points.

“His poll numbers are terrible. Why else would he go to the air 383 days before the election?” says Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston.