BY SUSAN ESTRICH
Harry Reid should win.
I’m not talking about whether he deserves to win, although I think he does. He did exactly what the majority leader is supposed to do: deliver for his president. He did it with little help from the other side, with a president on a downhill slide in the polls, with unemployment in his own state of Nevada hitting records. He did not head for the hills and away from his president to save his seat. He did his best to use his power and position to help the people of his state.
I’m not talking about whether people have reason to vote against him. Surely, they do. In an anti-incumbent year, in economic hard times, you couldn’t pick a worse person to be than the senior senator and majority leader. With an unemployment rate of more than 14% in Nevada, are you actually going to convince people that things could be much worse? I think they are almost certainly angry enough. And who better to be angry at than someone who’s been in Congress for as long as Reid?
I’m not talking about who has luck on their side, much less anything more significant than that. Sharron Angle, Reid’s Republican opponent, may not be an obvious choice for the deliberative body the Senate is supposed to be. But anyone who’s spent time in Washington knows that the Senate is certainly nothing resembling the deliberative body of high-school civics. Angle might not be the smartest person in the building, but she won’t be the dumbest, either. Plenty of room, as former Sen. Roman Hruska so famously suggested should apply to the Supreme Court, for the mediocre.
The reason Reid should win has nothing to do with national tides or the enthusiasm gap. It has to do with the first rule of politics. The first rule of politics is that politics is not the first rule. People vote for all kinds of reasons that almost never turn on politics, per se, or even on politicians. People vote for reasons that almost always have to do with themselves and how they are doing. Politicians who forget this are, by definition, out of touch, and it usually shows.
What is happening in Nevada right now is not only that people are angry, but also that they are hurting. When one out of six people is out of work [and it’s close to that in Nevada], it means that literally everyone has a family member or friend or neighbor who is unemployed. The housing market collapse in Las Vegas is among the worst in the nation. Everyone who thought they were so smart for investing in Vegas real estate is not smart anymore.
You could spend a lot of time yelling back and forth about who is to blame for all of this. Should we finger the officials who deregulated the markets? The financial institutions that provided risky mortgages? The others that packaged them or rated them? The people who bought them? All of the above?
It won’t get you anywhere at all. You can debate about who is going to fix it or who should, but at the end of the day, we all know that the government is going to be part of the “answer,” whether or not it’s one you support.
That is why Reid should win.
It may not be fair, and it’s certainly not her fault, but Reid can do a lot more for the people of Nevada at a time when they need all the help they can get.
He can do that because, if he’s re-elected, the president will owe him. He will still be his party’s leader, and he can bring home more to the state of Nevada than a goof-prone newcomer with a penchant for putting her foot in her mouth – who would be one of the most junior members of the Republican Party.
At the end of the day, Nevada may not want Reid, but they can hardly afford to get rid of him. And that might be enough this year.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer