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Can Harry Reid regain Nevadans' support?

Harry Reid may be the powerful Senate majority leader, but back home in Nevada, most voters don't think much of him. On Friday, President Obama travels to Nevada to campaign for Reid.

By Michael B. Farrell/ Staff writer / February 19, 2010

Some in Nevada are put off by Sen. Reid's positions and blunt stances.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Las Vegas

The demise of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project – unpopular among Nevadans – couldn't have come at a better time for Harry Reid, the embattled Senate majority leader who faces an uphill reelection bid in the coming midterm elections.

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The notoriously blunt and unpolished senator, who once called President George W. Bush a liar and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan a hack, desperately needed a political victory, and he was no doubt grateful to be able to take credit for stopping Yucca Mountain.

A few weeks earlier, Senator Reid found himself apologizing for his "poor choice of words," after he was quoted in a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign as saying Barack Obama could win because he is "light skinned" and had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Republicans pounced. Some called for him to resign his majority leader post.

Whether those comments will matter nine months from now in Nevada, a state with the second-highest unemployment rate and highest foreclosure rate, depends in part on how much political hay his GOP opponent manages to make of them – and whether Reid himself can persuade voters he can do more for them than someone new.

Still, Reid can't afford many more political missteps.

Nationally, he has become something of a political lightning rod for championing Mr. Obama's healthcare reform plan. And here in Nevada, a state with a strong libertarian streak where the antitax "tea party" movement is growing, he has become something of a pariah.

Nevadans gave him only a 33 percent favorability rating in a January Mason-Dixon Polling & Research phone survey. A recent Rasmussen poll showed that the top three contenders for the Republican nomination would likely beat Reid if the election were held today.

Republicans would rejoice to see the most powerful Democrat in Congress fall, just as former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle did in 2004. A Reid defeat, moreover, would be seen as a rebuke to the healthcare bill the majority leader has worked so hard to maneuver through Congress.

But Reid won't go quietly. The Senate contest here promises to be hard fought and will unfold on the national stage. Reid says he's prepared to spend at least $25 million to win. While the Republican challenger is unlikely to be able to match that figure, conservatives nationwide are already donating to the defeat-Reid effort.

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