Harry Reid Might Hold His Seat and, Yes, Democrats Should Be Happy About That

The great Republican crack-up may yet cost them a very valuable seat, that of Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid in Nevada. TPM reports:

For months Reid (D-NV) has seemed like a goner as each one of his potential GOP rivals held solid leads in polls. But as the June 8 primary nears, the Republicans in the crowded field of challengers have turned on one another and the race is tightening.

Frontrunner Sue Lowden, a former Nevada GOP-state-party chairman, has showed vulnerability by suggesting that health-care reform be replaced with a system where people barter for their health care by bringing chickens to their doctor. (Yes, she really did suggest just that, and she prefaced it with "in the olden days.") That hurt her poll numbers, and her primary opponents have smelled the blood in the water and gone on the attack.

Remarkably enough, some on the left might actually be rooting for Reid to lose anyway. Ari Melber, who writes for The Nation, explained the rationale in his Politico op-ed last Friday. Melber argued, "Democrats could be better off if the Nevada senator loses his reelection bid, since his efforts to lead the party are saddled by the precarious politics of his conservative swing state."

The argument has intuitive appeal—doesn't it stand to reason that Reid would represent his party more cautiously, and thus less effectively, than someone who does not have to fear a challenge from his right back home?—and some comparative history on its side. Recent and current GOP leaders in the House and Senate, who hailed from conservative states and districts, such as Senate leaders Trent Lott from Mississippi and Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and House leader Tom DeLay from Texas, often ruled with an iron fist. Meanwhile the recent Democratic bar for ineptitude is supposedly set by quislings such as Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who voted for the Iraq War and lost his seat anyway.

But a more nuanced view of Reid, and recent history, reveals a more complex picture. Daschle believed that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and when he gently pulled Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont across the party aisle—in contrast to the Republicans who had alienated Jeffords through their nasty partisanship—put the Democrats in control of the Senate, he was, temporarily, vindicated. Gingrich and DeLay, on the other hand, became wildly unpopular figures, viewed as hypocrites and bullies, and as liabilities to their party. Lott, likewise, became an embarrassment to his party when he praised Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign. The lesson? Maybe putting one of your most extreme members from a safely partisan state isn't always the best national strategy.

The Democrats' Senate whip, Dick Durbin of Illinois, who Melber points to as a suitably pugnacious replacement thanks to his solidly blue home state, invited criticism when he compared Guantánamo Bay to "Nazis, Soviets ... Pol Pot or others." Maybe that plays well with the base, but that's not the kind of statement you want your party's leader making on Meet the Press—just ask a Republican who is routinely chagrined by the shenanigans of RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

The Republicans' internal divisions notwithstanding, they are primed for a lot of pickups this fall, and the Democrats would probably be smarter to focus on holding that Senate seat in Nevada than wondering if they'd be better off without it.

Harry Reid Might Hold His Seat and, Yes, Democrats Should Be Happy About That | U.S.