Next Democratic Senate leader to get booted: Harry Reid?

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Senate majority leader Harry Reid faces an uphill battle to keep his seat in the 2010 election, putting him at risk of becoming the second consecutive leader of Senate Democrats to get turned out of office by home-state voters.

“Former boxer Senator Harry Reid is on the ropes early,” the Las Vegas Review Journal said Sunday, reporting that a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll showing either of two likely Republican opponents “would knock out Reid in a general election.”

Reid on the ropes

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Reid trails Danny Tarkanian, a real estate professional and former University of Nevada-Las Vegas basketball star, 38 percent to 49 percent. The Senate majority leader trails state GOP Chairman Sue Lowden 40 percent to 45 percent. The poll was conducted Aug. 17 and 18 and has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

When asked at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in March about the challenge of running the Senate and running for re-election himself in 2010, Reid said, “I am not going to change anything. I have always been who I am. People in Nevada know that. Some people like who I am. Others don’t. I have watched other senators try to change who they are during an election cycle. I think it is real ugly and I am not going to do that.” Reid said he had raised $2 million for his re-election in the most recent reporting period. “I feel comfortable that I will be competitive,” he said.

The Daschle precedent

If Reid were to lose, he would be the second Senate Democratic leader in a row to do so. In 2004, South Dakota voters spurned Tom Daschle’s bid for re-election, electing John Thune to take his place. In Daschle's race for re-election, Republicans branded him an obstructionist to President Bush’s agenda on tax cuts, the war in Iraq, and judicial nominees. He lost narrowly in a $26 million race in which Daschle and Thune each spent $50 on every one of the state’s 502,000 registered voters.

Daschle thus became the first Senate leader in more than 50 years to be voted out of office. He became Senate minority leader in 1994 and majority leader in 2001, returning to his role as minority leader after the 2002 elections.

In December, the newly elected Barack Obama nominated Daschle to be Health and Human Services secretary. Deschle later withdrew from consideration after a controversy over delayed payment of taxes for consulting work and for the use of a car and driver. He remains an influential adviser to the president.

Reid’s favorability ratings highlight the risk he faces of following in Daschle’s footsteps. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, only 37 percent of Nevada voters view Reid favorably versus 50 percent who have an unfavorable view of the four-term senator.

Hurt by the economy

Reid has time to turn the picture around. But his state’s 13 percent jobless rate presents a challenge, as do the senator’s ties to Mr. Obama, who has lost ground in recent public opinion polls.

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