Getting a Reid on the Leader

Politico’s recent report that Harry Reid plans to continue as Senate Democratic leader after this November “win, lose or draw” is not merely good news for Nevadans, but offers insight into Reid and the Senate. 

Nevadans have a history of sticking with incumbents they are satisfied with, at any level of government. But they also have a history of unloading incumbents and misunderstanding their importance, and suffering the consequences. The classic example was in 1982, when four-term Democratic Sen. Howard Cannon lost his re-election bid to Republican Chic Hecht. Whatever Hecht’s merits and lack of them, Cannon was seventh in Senate seniority, and that meant money, jobs, and no Yucca Mountain.

Nevadans almost made a similar and even greater mistake in 2010 when nearly 45 percent of those who cast ballots preferred Sharron Angle—whose name has become synonymous with political ignorance and foot-in-mouth disease—to Reid. The majority leader has great power in the Senate (the minority leader does, too, when it takes 60 votes to get almost any bill to the floor).

From his slot, Reid can continue to promote Nevada interests. These have included support for
various projects within the state and, most importantly to the majority of the population, stopping a project:  squeezing Yucca Mountain out of the budget and assuring its opposition
by the Obama administration. If you think Obama is going to hang Reid out to dry on this and switch, you think he wants Senate Democrats to be even more obstructionist than Senate Republicans. And if you think Reid is going to ignore that during Obama’s re-election campaign in Nevada this year, you may think the moon really is made of green cheese.

A less vital but interesting example of Reid’s power benefiting Nevada involves Obama’s recent visit to Las Vegas. Strip resorts wanted high-rollers to be able to land so they could spend money in connection with the Chinese New Year. When a president visits, that affects airspace, which would have delayed the gamblers. Three casino companies called Reid. They didn’t call Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. The airspace issue was resolved in their favor. When H.M. Reid talks, people listen.

On a related note, the story is informative in another way, and part of that involves what it doesn’t say. Politico refers to how his wife Landra’s health problems affect Reid. That could be an important factor for his political future, since no one is closer to him (gee, a politician whose best friend is his wife). What is unknown—even Reid probably doesn’t and can’t know it—is what kind of a factor his wife’s health will be in his desire to continue as leader and whether he runs for re-election.

His reference to having five years left in his term is interesting but not necessarily revealing. It does show that he thinks long-term. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., very much wants to be majority leader, as does Reid’s whip, Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Reid is unlikely to want to give up his post for a while, and that would avert a potentially divisive battle to succeed him.

Beyond which, Reid may have more than the five years he mentioned. He would be up for re-election in 2016 and if his health holds up and nothing untoward happens, I’d put my money on Reid seeking a sixth term; he’ll be almost 77, meaning, if he lasts as long as Strom Thurmond (Reid eats more healthily; Michelle Obama could use him as an advertisement), he’d have only four more terms after that.

Reid could choose to exit the majority leader’s post in the manner of Sen. Robert Byrd of
West Virginia. When Byrd decided he’d had enough, he shifted to chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is that house’s key money committee. There’s a theory that the state of West Virginia has sunk several inches under the weight of the federal projects that Byrd brought back home. Reid might be pondering doing the same for Nevada. As the article shows, much remains to be seen.