Reid’s Support at Home Drops as D.C. Power Grows

J. Patrick Coolican of the Las Vegas Sun reports on the odd paradox that Harry Reid’s popularity in his home state of Nevada is dropping now that he is at the apex of his political power.

Sen. Harry Reid, once a fairly obscure conservative Democrat from the small state of Nevada, is all the buzz inside the Beltway lately – unfortunately for him, it’s the Washington and not the Las Vegas Beltway. Reid is praised by his party’s national grass-roots activists for his forceful opposition to the Republican agenda and ability to keep Senate Democrats unified. His opponents concede – occasionally with close-fisted frustration – that he consistently bests his counterpart, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

“No minority leader has so dominated the Senate since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1953-54,” conservative columnist Robert Novak, who has covered the Beltway for decades, wrote last week, citing Reid’s ability to hold up immigration reform and a bill to bail out companies with asbestos liabilities. But Reid’s national stature among activist Democrats, concentrated on the blue-state coasts, carries risks for him at home, analysts say. His consistent opposition to President Bush and his need to mollify the liberals in his party is costing him in Nevada, where polls show he has lost support since becoming minority leader.

His predecessor, Tom Daschle, faced similar problems in conservative South Dakota. As I’ve noted many times, Reid always struck me — and I gather his home state constituents — as a thoughtful, moderate fellow. My guess is that he still is. His role as party leader, and especially as opposition party leader, does not allow him to be that anymore.

The increasingly polarized tone of Washington rewards pitched rhetoric and parliamentary gamesmanship. Yet voters have consistently demonstrated that they hate those things. Coupled with the fact that Reid, and Daschle before him, are forced by their institutional roles to do whatever they can to thwart the president their constituents also voted for, this is a dicey situation, indeed.

Reid, unlike Daschle, has the luxury of being early in his term. He doesn’t face re-election until 2010, presuming he’s even inclined to run for another stint. That gives him quite a bit of maneuvering room.

Update (4/26): Jim Henley demands poll numbers.

Here is some polling data on Reid, from an April 11 story in the Las Vegas Review Journal, “Reid’s image takes a hit – Popularity falls as Democratic leader.”

Harry Reid's falling poll numbers Becoming U.S. Senate minority leader has hurt Sen. Harry Reid’s popularity back home, according to a Review-Journal poll. Since he was re-elected in 2004 and took the party post, the percentage of Nevadans who view Reid favorably has dropped by 10 percentage points, while the number who view him unfavorably has increased 14 percentage points.

Analysts say it’s obvious Reid’s new status, which requires him to spout the Democratic party line aggressively and also take the brunt of Republican attacks, has turned off home state voters who saw him as independent. Some are surprised at the magnitude of the shift. “Wow,” said University of Nevada, Reno, political scientist Eric Herzik on hearing Reid’s new rating. “That’s a real tight spread.” The “spread” is what political insiders call the distance between a politician’s favorable and unfavorable percentages. In the new R-J poll, of the 625 regular voters surveyed, 43 percent had a favorable opinion of Reid, while 39 percent had an unfavorable view.

A week before Reid was re-elected in 2004, an R-J poll had his favorable rating at 53 percent and his unfavorable percentage at 25. That means Reid’s spread has gone from a comfortable 18 [actually, 28, as a correction to the story notes] points to a precarious 4. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Quite a slide, indeed.

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James Joyner
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  1. McGehee says:

    Reid always struck me � and I gather his home state constituents � as a thoughtful, moderate fellow. My guess is that he still is.

    Hm. I can remember when he was still a freshman Senator, and came across at least as loony as he does now as Minority Leader.

    Harry Unbound, is the way I see it.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Did I scan too quickly, or is there not a single poll number in that column to demonstrate Reid’s decline in popularity?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Jim: Yeah, I noticed that as well. It might have run as a sidebar to a polling story or something. Or it could be purely anecdotal. Such is the press, sometimes.

  4. Jim Henley says:

    Thanks for the update. Those numbers look pretty significant.