A Reid too far?

Left Photo By Dennis Myers right photo by David robert Rory and Harry Reid, father and son, will likely appear on the ballot together next year.

Nevada Democrats last week got a foretaste of the
complications that could ensue if they nominate two Reids for statewide
office in 2010.

Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, who is running for governor,
traveled to the nation’s capital where his father, U.S. Sen.
Harry Reid, holds forth these days as Senate Democratic leader. While
he was in D.C., the younger Reid met with national political reporters
who then cranked out some articles in which he came off second
best.

Since the reporters naturally did not know the Nevada
governor’s race issues, they asked him about issues that are on
his father’s plate—health care and Afghanistan. The result
was articles with headlines like “Rory Reid: I’m not
running with my dad?” (Politico) and “Reids Running, But
Maybe Not Together” (National Journal). The piece posted on the
MSNBC website read in part:

“Reid ducked several national questions. On whether he would
‘opt out’ of the public option if the Senate health-care
bill his father has written becomes law, he answered that he has no
idea what the eventual health-care law would entail. ‘I’m
not going to get into what the law might be.’ Regarding whether
he supported President Obama’s troop increase to Afghanistan,
Reid replied that he’s running for governor of Nevada, not
federal office. ‘That policy is best left to the
president.’ He also declined to talk about his father’s
Senate race. ‘I think you should ask him to handicap his own
race.’”

The National Republican Senate Committee quickly jumped on the
stories, sending mailings to Nevada journalists. Though Rory Reid said
nothing against his father in the press interviews, the GOP mailing was
headed, “Not exactly a vote of confidence from Harry Reid’s
own son.” And Las Vegas columnist Jon Ralston posted a piece
headlined “Reids’ national media misadventures
…” that said, “But the coverage of his chat with the
bigfoot political media folks only served to highlight the possible
toxicity for Democrats of having two Reids on the ballot, while
concomitantly leaving The Younger and The Elder with a news cycle
hangover.”

All this revived the issue of two Reids on the Nevada ballot that
Rory Reid has preferred to ignore. It didn’t help that this
adverse attention was coming just as Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman was
floating one of his periodic trial balloons about deciding whether to
run for governor on an independent line.

Most local observers say the issue is one that resonates not just
with those involved with politics, but also with rank and file
voters.

Nevada Democratic figure David Ward, a former political consultant,
said he has seen polling on the two-Reid issue: “The polling
that’s been done on it says that it hurts. … It hurts, and
it’s significant.”

Truckee Meadows Community College political scientist Fred Lokken
said, “It resonates. I can’t tell you the number of people
who have raised it with me.”

Though Rory Reid is reported in news coverage to be reluctant to
discuss the issue, he did talk about it in a recent RN&R
interview.

“I’m happy to talk about it,” he said. “What
I would say is that I love my father very much, probably more than
anybody that’s talking about this. And if I believed that that
[damage to Harry Reid’s candidacy] was the case, I wouldn’t
be doing what I’m doing. We’re not going to solve all our
problems in Washington. We need to change the way Carson City does
business. And I think I can do that. And I think that ultimately,
people have to make a choice between two candidates, and they’re
gong to vote for the candidate that they think has the ability and the
vision to make fundamental change in Carson City. And I think that
analysis will be made notwithstanding the candidates’ genealogy.
I just think that this is a notion—you know, it’s
interesting to talk about, but I don’t think there’s any
empirical evidence that suggests that people make decisions that way. I
think that people make decisions based on the two candidates in front
of them. They’re going to pick the one they think is
best.”

Since that interview, the polling may have provided the empirical
evidence.

What possessed Reid to do interviews with national reporters in D.C.
during his visit, since they would be virtually certain to focus on his
relationship with his father? “He should have anticipated
that,” Lokken said. And it was virtually a no-win situation. If
he praised his father, it would make the two-Reid problem worse. If he
didn’t, he would look like he was undercutting his father.

It’s not as though the issue wasn’t out there as a
reminder. At the time of Reid’s D.C. trip, Las Vegas Weekly had a
cover story on the Rory Reid campaign that included text by Stacy J.
Willis like this:

“The largest challenge in Rory Reid’s quest for a
distinguishable identity is the old man. Harry Reid is Nevada’s
hardscrabble son, his name is in the thick of American politics, and
his lean story is well-known: He grew up dirt poor in Searchlight and
clawed his way to the top of the Democratic machine. One might imagine
that having the U.S. Senate majority leader as dad would help
one’s political career resoundingly, but it’s not without
its drawbacks. The Reid name certainly helps with fundraising—a
war chest rumored to be near $4 million with the help of the
Clintons—and with diehard Dems. … But Harry’s polling
is low lately in his reelection bid, and Rory is slowly trying to carve
out a more moderate path for himself under his father’s
reputation. It doesn’t help to have WashingtonPost.com writing about the
potential ‘dynasty’ as negative for each of them, and
outlets such as Wonkette.com calling
them Nevada’s ‘own species of charmless desert
Kennedy.’”

Ward said the issue now really isn’t whether there will be two
Reids on the ballot. That’s all but assured, he said. The problem
for the two campaigns now is to deal with the problem. “But
that’s the way it’s going to be, so it just makes a
difficult job a more difficult job from either one of their
standpoints, I think,” he said.

Neither Ward nor Lokken consider it an insurmountable obstacle,
though Lokken said Harry Reid’s campaign does not need one more
problem to deal with. Ward said, referring to the elder Reid’s
campaign fund, “With $26 million you can do a lot of
educating.”

For Rory Reid the issue contains some especially hazardous elements.
RN&R asked him, regarding his father’s reelection race,
“If it’s a close race like it was Ensign and Reid [in
1998]—if it takes away 400 votes, and he loses by that much, how
are you going to feel the day after the election?”

He replied, “I don’t think there’s any way to know
that. The result will be what it is, and I’m going to work as
hard as I can to explain to people why I should hold that office and
leave it to them to make the decision. And I’ll accept
it.”

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About Dennis Myers 1397 Articles
Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely Nevada, a children’s history textbook, and a contributor to the books The Mythical West and Covering the Courts in Nevada. In September, 2020, he was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame.