Harry Reid’s Vulnerability a Bad Sign for Senate Democrats’ 2016 Hopes

Who is the most vulnerable Senator up for re-election in 2016? The answer, at least according to a poll of a bipartisan group of strategists, is former Majority Leader Harry Reid.

“If Reid doesn’t decide to retire, he’s a good bet to be taken down in a presidential year,” one Democratic strategist told National Journal. “His health issues insulate him from a primary, but in a general—he’s a goner.”

“He’s lose his power-and-influence argument, and long ago lost any new ideas or ability to create excitement around his candidacy,” said another.

Last cycle, Reid was able to overcome similar handicaps by amassing the largest war chest ever built for a statewide race, which he used to run one of the most shamelessly negative campaigns in history. But this year is different. POLITICO reports that Reid has less than half of the money he had at a comparable point last cycle. He has also yet to hire a campaign manager, build any semblance of a significant staff, or recultivate his once-vaunted get-out-the-vote operation.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Sen. Reid’s problems. The Democratic Party is not nearly as strong as it was for his last election, his health is waning, his influence is gone, there are serious questions about Hillary Clinton’s ability to win in Nevada, and most importantly, his most likely challengers—state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson and Governor Brian Sandoval—are both well-seasoned, well-liked pols with a knack for fundraising and a grasp of the issues.

Reid has long been a dominant force in Senate politics—using his clout as Majority Leader to essentially control the flow of legislation in Washington—and building the Senate Majority PAC, which has been one of the primary tools to protect Democrats and “vaporize” Republicans.

But Democrats have been privately grumbling about Reid’s tactics, even going to far as to publicly question the decision to spend vast sums of time and money trying to make villains out of the amiable Koch brothers.

“It raises money for sure. But is it good to motivate a voter? No,” a state party executive director told the Washington Times.

As Reid’s star has dimmed and his strategy becomes tarnished Democrats’ recruitment efforts have similarly been flagging. POLITICO’s Kyle Cheney and Tarini Parti report:

After Democrats were eviscerated in last year’s elections, the party took solace in the fact that 2016 seemed built for a comeback. The party runs better in presidential elections — and while the House of Representatives isn’t in play, seven GOP senators are up for reelection in states President Barack Obama won twice.

But a sense of foreboding has crept into Democratic circles around the country. Interviews with dozens of strategists, party officials and Democratic luminaries reveal that in states Democrats are depending on to retake the Senate, top-level candidates are sparse, unwilling to run or more interested in seeking state office than going to Washington.

As a result, Democrats are embracing a slew of well-known but failed candidates — former governors, senators and also-rans spurned by voters the last time they were on the ballot — or being forced to rely on candidates with little political experience.

“It’s worrisome to a lot of people,” Democratic consultant T.J. Rooney told POLITICO. “There certainly are many, many qualified potential candidates out there but for a myriad of reasons, they seem to be sitting this one out.”

Republicans aren’t sitting this one out. In fact, the party is working hard to take advantage of Democrats’ slow start, recruiting strong candidates, building an enviable issue platform, raising money, and continuing to invest in its technology edge. Will it pay off? There’s still a long way between now and Election Day, but this is one we can’t afford to lose.