President Obama may not be gambling at the casinos in Las Vegas, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could be gambling the president will help him in his tight race for re-election when the president appears with Senator Reid in Sin City Thursday and Friday.
Obama will arrive in Las Vegas on Thursday evening and attend two fundraisers for Reid, who is locked in a tight political race with Republican Sharron Angle, a candidate backed by the Tea Party movement. Angle, who has not conducted a lot of interviews or made many media appearances since winning her party’s nomination, is ahead in the latest polls. The most recent Rasmussen Reports poll before the July 4th weekend showed Angle with a seven point lead over Reid with about 10 percent of people voting for a candidate other than the two on the ballot, or undecided.
The Obama administration, which announced the Vegas trip last month before that poll, said they always knew Nevada would be a tough race. " Harry Reid is a fighter," said Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton on Air Force One. "We have no doubt that this is going to be a competitive race. But of course we’re confident that he’s going to come back and continue to be our Leader, come next year."
The Tea Party movement is hoping to make the most of Reid’s vulnerability, holding their next convention in Las Vegas. They moved the event closer to November with the hopes of having a greater impact not only on Reid’s race, but all of the mid-term elections this fall.
Angle, the current darling of the Tea Party, has some controversial views that make her a prime target for Democrats, including eliminating the Department of Education and dumping nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. She also has some serious money issues, one problem Reid doesn’t have. Reports say he has millions at his disposal but he is spending that money quickly. The president’s trip out west is sure to help fill up the coffers.
Pundits say money may not be an issue for Reid, but turning out voters could be a real problem.
“Harry Reid’s main task is winning over enough independents in Nevada to win. That’s where he is weak right now. Obama can’t help him there. As the national polls show, the president has sunk badly with independents,” says Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Angle is already trying to capitalize off of the Obama visit, launching attacks at Reid and his appearances Thursday and Friday with the president.
“Basically, you have President Obama and Senator Reid together in a giant glass house raising money to throw rocks at Sharron Angle during a time when 192,000 Nevadans are unemployed,” said Jerry Stacy, a spokesperson for U.S. Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle in a paper release in advance of the fundraisers. “Nevadans are tired of Harry Reid’s rubber-stamping higher taxes and irresponsible spending policies in Washington, and it’s time for him to go.”
Angle’s campaign seems to be playing off Obama’s record on the campaign trail in the past year. In recent elections he backed and appeared with Democratic candidates in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. All of those candidates lost their respective races. Experts say the key to the Reid race is for the senator to make it about himself and not about the president.
“Reid needs to make this about Reid - not Barack Obama. Barack Obama campaigning for him is something the Reid campaign will decide. Obama is going to say what can I do to help you, and if staying out of the state is what's best he'll do that,” says Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Howard Dean and a Fox News contributor. “There are plenty of places where George Bush went in and campaigned for Republican candidates, and there were plenty of places he stayed out of where that was what was best for the candidate. It was that way in 2002 and 2006 and it'll be the same with Obama in 2010.”
But Trippi thinks the president is a minor player in the senate race in Nevada.
“Frankly the bigger factor in the race - much bigger than Obama - is Sharron Angle. Given her many unorthodox views - including "transitioning out" Social Security - whether she can win over moderate Republicans and independents is what is going to determine this race,” Trippi says.
Reid also has another thing going for him - the president’s position on the Arizona immigration law and how it affects Hispanics across the country.
“They are a key part of the Democratic coalition in Nevada, and Obama just signed off on the federal immigration suit against Arizona. This position is very popular with Hispanics, who traditionally have a low turnout, especially in midterm elections. Reid needs for Hispanics to vote at a rate much closer to that of 2008, when Obama won the state,” says Sabato.
It’s possible that Obama will be most helpful to Reid in working to activate the base and experts think the Reid campaign will probably use the president in that fashion, in radio ads or perhaps robocalls to key constituents. But in the end, Trippi says, it’s not about the president. “In terms of swing voters and people who may be dismayed by Angle's views, in the end this is about them deciding between Reid and Angle it's not about Obama.”