LAS VEGAS — Of all the races in the country this year, none is as important to President Barack Obama as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s reelection campaign.
The race carries unrivaled symbolism for Obama, who would emerge even more politically wounded than anticipated if Republicans defeat his top Democrat in the Senate.
The stakes were in full display Friday night at an outdoor rally in Las Vegas, when Obama — whose name has been chanted over the past three days by crowds at events from Seattle to Los Angeles — made a rare move and led the crowd in a chant of “Har-ry!”“I appreciate everybody saying Obama,” the president said as thousands of supporters screamed “O-bam-a!”
“But I want everybody to say Harry,” Obama yelled, leading them on moments after he stood on the stage with Reid, a former boxer, holding his hand in the air as though he had won a fight.
Reid is locked in a tight race against Republican Sharron Angle, a tea party favorite who has continued to be a force despite several high-profile campaign missteps. Obama made his fourth trip to Nevada Friday for a week-before-the-election rally and fundraiser to help Reid squeak out a victory despite low popularity in his home state and an adverse political climate.
The president vouched for Reid, whose opponent is running ads suggesting he got rich off of his position in the Senate, as an advocate for the middle class.
“Harry has never forgotten what it’s like to grow up in Searchlight, Nev. He knows what it’s like to be poor. He knows what it’s like to work hard. He knows what it’s like to hit some bumps in the road,” Obama said. “Neither Harry and I were born with a silver spoon in our mouths. Our families were working folk.”
For Obama, Reid’s campaign has all the elements that have made this election cycle a tumultuous one for Democrats.
His challenger has tea party backing, and few places in the nation have been as hard hit by the economic crisis than Nevada, where the unemployment rate is more than14 percent and the rate of foreclosures is the highest in the nation.
Reid’s race raises the stakes for Obama because of unique circumstances where all it could take for him to win would be large Democratic turnout — the president’s main 2010 role — and because it’s been cast as referendum on the White House’s big-ticket victories, all of which Reid helped muscle through: health care reform, financial regulatory reform, the economic stimulus package.
Reid is counting on minor-party candidates, including a Tea Party ballot line, and Nevada’s unique “none of the above” voting option to siphon votes from Angle, who also has low popularity in Nevada. Political strategists, including those working on Reid’s campaign, believe the dynamic would allow Reid to win with substantially less than 50 percent of the vote. Democrats have a registration edge of 60,000 more voters than Republicans, a 5-point advantage that’s decreased from more than 100,000 two years ago.
To get there, Reid is counting on Democratic turnout, powered by his statewide campaign organization, which he largely built in 2008 and thought would pay off for him in 2010. Indeed, the Obama organizational juggernaut was kept in place as Reid’s reelection geared up.