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Harry Reid: Daschle Redux?

Sherman Frederick, the publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, writes that Harry Reid's kowtowing to the Pelosi wing of the Democratic party has made him unelectable in Nevada:

And finally, Harry Reid has never been a thoroughbred racehorse on the track of Nevada politics. He's been more like a stubborn mule who never gives up, never gives in. And, in the heat of past races, he's been known to kick a few opponents in the head.

"Landslide Harry" is used to close races. Races that can be decided by a few thousand, and even a few hundred votes. But those were races before Harry became the top Democratic dog in the U.S. Senate. Before he disappeared as a conservative Democrat from Nevada. Before he started eyeing Nancy Pelosi's wardrobe.

Nevadans elected the Harry I've hiked the desert with in blue jeans and dusty work boots. But on national TV they see a guy in a capri and sandals.

Not pretty.

And, more to the point, not electable in Nevada.

Reid doesn't stand for reelection until 2010 so discussions about his electability are obviously premature, but the question is interesting nonetheless: will Reid's heightened visibility as the leader of an exceedingly angry, left-leaning party hurt his standing at home?

Tom Daschle makes for an interesting point of comparison. After assuming the role of Democratic Minority Leader in January 1995, Daschle cruised to reelection in 1998. By the time Daschle was ready to stand for reelection in 2004, however, he was the leader of a much different party. The Democrats' bitter loss to George W. Bush in 2000, the attacks of September 11, the War in Iraq, and Democrats' loss of the Senate in 2002 all contributed to an increase in partisanship and a leftward swing in the party. Add in the proliferation of cable news and the rise of the Internet, and Daschle was more visible than ever to his constituents back home not just as their home-state Senator but also as the leader of an angry, liberal Democratic Party.

Daschle had always been able to finesse a fairly liberal voting record in a heavily Republican state with excellent constituent relations and a mild-mannered demeanor. But in 2004 he was tagged as an "obstructionist" and upended 51-49 by a popular, well-financed conservative challenger, marking the first time in more than half a century a sitting Senate leader from either party was ousted from his seat.

A couple of notable differences between Daschle and Reid; Reid has a more conservative voting record in a much less Republican state. Reid also won't have to contend with a hotly contested Presidential race in 2010, a factor which almost certainly helped doom Daschle in 2004 (he lost to Thune by 4,500 votes while Bush carried South Dakota by 22 points).

After barely surviving a challenge from John Ensign in 1998, Reid won big in 2004 - but did so by spending an astronomical $7 million dollars against very weak opposition. Since then he's been the face of the party along with Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean, and his approval ratings in the last half of 2005 have remained in the high 50's - though they look to have become a bit more volatile in the last few months. Ultimately, Reid's fate will be determined by the quality of his opposition and the mood of Nevada voters in 2010, but it will be interesting to watch his numbers over the course of time, especially if the country is faced with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and/or President Hillary Clinton in the coming years.