Published May 20, 2009
For nearly six years, Republicans have had Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid in their crosshairs, hoping to secure for the four-term Nevada senator the same stunning fate as his predecessor, Tom Daschle, who failed to win re-election in South Dakota in 2004 despite his role as the Senate's top Democrat.
But here's the rub for Republicans hoping for another historic upset: They haven't found a challenger to take on the reigning majority leader.
"You can't beat anybody with nobody," said Ted G. Jelen, a political scientist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Even so, Reid is being painted as a "super-spending partisan" by critics and has close ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who's under fire for casting the CIA as liars. Republicans are convinced that Reid is vulnerable in next year's election.
"He does have an image problem," Jelen told FOX News. "A well-financed credible challenger could give him a lot of trouble."
A recent Mason-Dixon poll found half of Nevada voters don't approve of Reid's performance, dashing any hope the majority leader had of piggybacking off of President Obama's popularity. Thirty-eight percent had a favorable opinion of Reid, while 11 percent were neutral.
The poll of 625 Nevada voters was taken last week, before Reid, once more, found himself twisting around his caucus's position on an issue, this time on whether Guantanamo detainees will ever be allowed into the United States.
And on Tuesday, Reid botched statements on three subjects in one news conference, including the fragile health of Sen. Edward Kennedy.
He also earlier this year bungled the handling of the appointment of Illinois Sen. Roland Burris to Obama's vacant Senate seat, boldly declaring Burris would never be seated before bowing to public pressure to welcome him.
Sue Lowden, chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party, told FOXNews.com that the GOP is taking its time to vet a number of candidates.
"We have plenty of time. We have plenty of candidates," Lowden said, asserting that some are popularly elected officials and others can fund their own campaigns. She said the party will announce a candidate by the fall, and she dismissed the notion that it will be too late, pointing out that South Dakota Sen. John Thune didn't announce his candidacy against Daschle until January 2004, nine months before he defeated the incumbent.
But some political analysts say Reid's race can't be compared to Daschle's.
"This is not the same year that Tom Daschle was defeated. The Republican brand is suffering in Nevada," Jelen said, noting that Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons' popularity is hovering above 20 percent.
"It's not South Dakota," he added, explaining that Daschle was always living on borrowed time in a more conservative state.
And the longer Republicans wait to roll out a challenger, the further ahead Reid gets in organizing and fundraising.
Reid, who is seeking a fifth term in a libertarian-leaning state, recently hired campaign manager Brandon Hall, who helped engineer Democrat Mark Begich's triumph over longtime Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in Alaska last year.
And he has raised more than $5 million -- already more than half the total he spent in his last re-election race in 2004. Reid appeared with Obama at the White House on Wednesday to watch Obama sign a housing bill. And the president will travel to Nevada next week to help Reid raise funds.
State Republican leaders say they aren't nervous.
"Money will not be an issue in this race," Lowden said. "We are confident we will be able to match him or come close to matching him."
But other Republicans and political analysts have their doubts.
"The state GOP is a mess here," David Damore, a professor of political science at UNLV said in an e-mail statement provided to FOXNews.com. "The only candidates of any quality to emerge on the GOP side for 2010 are those interested in taking on the sitting GOP governor, Jim Gibbons, who thus far has drawn two primary opponents."
Steve Wark, a GOP consultant based in Nevada, agreed, adding that the National Republican Committee probably will have to come to the rescue with resources and money if the state party cannot create an infrastructure to match the Democrats.
"That's why no one is panicking ... because they know the only way to compensate for time is with money," he said. "However, what concerns a lot of folks is the sooner you can get organized from a party standpoint, the better off you are."
Damore noted other challenges for the GOP, such as being down 100,000 in voter registration and public statements from in-state heavyweights who lean Republican that they will not work to defeat Reid.
"Lastly, the names that have been thrown out there as potential opponents all have some baggage," he said. "My guess is that the GOP will end up running some wealthy, business executive type with no political experience, but who at least will be able to fund his own campaign."
Reid is drawing support from Republicans. GOP consultant Sig Rogich said he's supporting Reid because of his performance in sapping the funding for the planned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump outside Las Vegas, and because of his seniority.
"I just think it's foolish to think about starting at the bottom rung in the seniority at a time when our state needs that (federal) assistance," Rogich said.