Senate races

Harry Reid’s final fight


Harry Reid is going out fighting.

Now partially blinded by an exercising accident, the Nevada Democrat and former amateur boxer is showing no signs of slowing down in his final five months in office.

{mosads}Commanding the Democratic caucus as minority leader, Reid is taking on the familiar role of chief antagonist to the GOP as seeks to win back the majority and keep his seat from falling into Republican hands.

After using his swan song at the Democratic National Convention to blast Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as “craven,” Reid took another swing this week, saying the Kentucky Republican is Donald Trump’s “most important enabler.” 

“Despite the fact that he’s retiring at the end of the year, that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop meddling,” said Jim Manley, a former Reid staffer. “He is determined to do what he can to make sure the Senate flips.”

Democrats need to pick up five seats — four if they keep the White House — to win back the Senate majority they lost in 2014.

At the center of the battle for the majority is Reid’s own seat. Election analysts consider the race a toss-up, making it perhaps the only pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans in a year where they are defending 24 seats.

“I’m very, very concerned about the seat in Nevada. The Koch brothers despise me,” Reid told Nevada delegates in Philadelphia late last month. “If you think that race is going to be easy, it’s not going to be easy.”

Reid, who is considered a kingmaker in Nevada politics, has his preferred candidate on the ballot in former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who won the Democratic primary in June. His endorsement gave her candidacy a huge boost. 

Reid has often sought to shape the outcome of political races, with mixed results. 

In 2006, he privately laid out the case to then-Sen. Barack Obama for a White House bid. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a progressive darling and rising star in the party, says he “totally changed my life” when he called her and asked her to come to Washington. 

But he also crisscrossed the country in a grueling, unsuccessful effort to help ensure his party kept the Senate majority in 2014, while GOP candidates made “fire Reid” their rallying cry.  Democrats lost nine Senate seats, and Reid’s party got pummeled in Nevada.

Seeking to build off their 2014 victories, Republicans are highlighting the close ties between Masto and Reid to make the election partly a referendum on Reid’s decades in Washington. 

When Otto Merida, the founder of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce, flipped from Masto this week and endorsed the Republican nominee, Rep. Joe Heck, state Republicans were quick to cast the decision as a blowback against the Senate Democratic leader. 

John Burke, the Nevada GOP rapid response director, called it “a sign that Nevadans are tired of Harry Reid and his hand-picked candidate’s empty promises to their constituents.” 

Democrats brush off the attempt to put Reid in the middle of the Senate race and say their party has fielded a strong slate of candidates. 

“You look at all of our races, we have candidates that are strong and going to stand on their own records,” said Zach Zaragoza, the executive director of the Nevada State Democratic Party. “[But] if you want to go on Sen. Reid’s record … his accomplishments go on and on.”

Democrats and staffers praise Reid’s leadership of the Democratic caucus. He has kept the caucus remarkably unified over the years, using a thorough knowledge of Senate procedure to shape the agenda and protect his members. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is expected to succeed Reid as the next Senate Democratic leader, said Reid has taught lawmakers “to treat our Democratic caucus as a family.” 

“We work with each other. We have each other’s back,” he told The New York Times during a Facebook Live interview late last month. “We work together for the good of country.” 

Reid and Democrats still have a myriad of policy fights to tackle before he relinquishes control.

Lawmakers will spend the final months of 2016 fighting over how to fund the government, while Democrats will continue pushing for the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Reid also wants to leave Washington ensuring that nuclear waste cannot be moved to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a proposal he has fought for years.

GOP frustration with Reid has bubbled up as he nears retirement.

McConnell compared the Democratic leader to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, saying he’s “rhetorically challenged” and “bombastic and unreasonable.”

Reid readily admits that — despite rising to the top of the Senate over nearly three decades — he’s never sought to fit into the Senate’s clubby atmosphere.

“You know I don’t drink. I’m not very good at small talk,” he told his son, Rory, during a Huffington Post “Talk To Me” interview. “You know I’m not even one who likes to go to meals and do business.”

Reid has pointed to his upbringing in poverty in the small town of Searchlight, Nev., as the source of his political drive. 

Asked about some of his biggest accomplishments, he choked up during a recent tribute video, saying, “If I do nothing else in my life, I got my mother some teeth.” 

But it is his penchant for sharp, frequently partisan rhetoric that Reid will perhaps be most remembered for.

Greg Blair, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that “beating [Masto] would not only be an important part of our Republican majority, it would be a significant blow to Harry Reid’s legacy.”

If his past is any indication, it’s a fight that Reid has no intention of backing down from.

“His race has usually been very close, which is why one of the reasons he’s going to do everything he can to prove [Republicans] wrong,” Manley said.

Tags Barack Obama Charles Schumer Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Mitch McConnell
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