Obama and Reid to meet with fates linked
By Ben Pershing
Walk along the Las Vegas strip on Friday and you might just run into President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- two Democrats who may need each other to revive their sagging political fortunes.
Obama and Reid are scheduled to appear together at CityCenter, the massive new hotel and condominium complex, to tout the importance of creating new jobs. At the same time, Reid's own job is at stake, as is the fate of Obama's agenda in the chamber Reid controls.
Last May, Obama headlined a fundraiser for Reid at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. The president ran through an ambitious set of goals, outlining his plans for job creation as well as health-care reform and tackling the federal deficit.
"We can only do it with Harry Reid, and I can only do it with you -- the people of Las Vegas, the people of Nevada, the people of America," Obama said at the event.
Nine months later, the White House's priorities are the same but the political climate for both men is decidedly worse.
Reid is now considered the underdog in his reelection race, and he is hoping Obama's appearance will lend some star power to his campaign. Friday's event is also designed to draw attention to Reid's own role in helping to secure financing for the CityCenter project, creating thousands of jobs in the process.
In Washington, Obama and Reid are both eager to create more jobs, but they haven't necessarily seen eye to eye. On Monday, the Senate will hold a cloture vote on a $15 billion jobs package assembled by Reid, one that may not get the 60 votes necessary to proceed but his office described as "specifically focused on measures that will have an immediate effect on hiring" in Nevada.
Reid decided to push that measure instead of an $85 billion bipartisan package that had drawn praise from the White House. And the centerpiece of Reid's bill is a Social Security tax break for companies that hire new workers, a substantively different plan than the one publicly endorsed by Obama.
Despite those differences, the two men have been able to work together on a number of priorities since Obama was elected. Reid played a vital role in assembling and passing Obama's signature $787 billion economic stimulus bill, and Reid also managed to get a health-care reform bill Obama mostly liked through his chamber before Democrats lost their supermajority. While Obama has complained of the Senate's slowness in moving his agenda and approving his nominees, the president has blamed Republicans, not Reid.
But the relationship between Obama and Reid has also seen its share of bumps in recent months. Reid apologized to Obama in January after a book on the 2008 campaign, "Game Change," quoted the Majority Leader saying Obama would do well because he was "light-skinned" and did not speak in a "Negro dialect."
"Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today," Obama said in response. "I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."
A few weeks later, it was Obama who had to apologize to Reid. The president told a New Hampshire audience in early February that people shouldn't "blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college." The remark was not well-received by Reid or his fellow Nevadans, and the White House quickly issued a clarification of his remarks. A year earlier, Obama got into similar trouble in the state for saying companies that took federal bailout funds "can't get corporate jets, you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime."
Right now, neither man is popular in the Silver State. A survey conducted in January for the Las Vegas Review-Journal gave Reid just a 33 percent favorable rating in the state, and showed him trailing all of his potential Republican opponents. The same poll found that Obama's favorable rating -- 34 percent -- was nearly identical to Reid's. The difference between the two Democrats is that Obama's numbers in Nevada have dropped precipitously since last summer, while Reid's numbers have been steadily negative for well over a year.
The outlook for Obama was much brighter in November 2008, when he won Nevada by 12 points over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). That win came after Obama lost the state's Democratic caucus to Hillary Clinton. Reid was officially neutral during that contest but his son, Rory Reid, and much of the Nevada political establishment backed Clinton.
Now, with dark clouds on the electoral horizon, Reid and Obama each has to root for the other to win.
In early February, Obama appeared at Senate Democrats' issues retreat and began his remarks by lavishing praise on the Majority Leader: "I recently said he's got one of the toughest jobs in Washington -- managing an institution that by its very nature is, let's face it, you guys are a little difficult to manage. I've been a part of this caucus. I really don't think anybody could have done a better job under more trying circumstances than Harry Reid."
February 18, 2010; 3:50 PM ET
Categories: 2010 Election , Capitol Briefing
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