MY COLUMN: Reid is dead if Sandoval (or anyone) runs, right?

"I think Gov. Sandoval has a real good opportunity now after a great run as governor, perhaps to run for senator. So, you know, frankly I'll say this: I think Harry Reid may decide to retire. That's my prediction." – National Republican Senatorial Chairman Roger Wicker, 11/13/14

Harry Reid is dead, one in an occasional series:

The sense of déjà vu is palpable. Republicans must need saliva-inhibitors because they are so excited to dethrone the most powerful Democrat in the state, perhaps in Nevada history.

The Senate Democratic leader, hobbled by his three-decades-plus in DC, his history of gaffes and his diminishing appeal at home, looks like easy pickings. Anyone with a pulse should have a chance, right?

That’s what the GOP thought in 2010, only to be thwarted by a crowded primary, a brilliant Reid campaign and a once in a lifetime gift they gave to him (or did he give that gift to himself with his primary meddling?) by the name of Sharron Angle. Now, as Campaign ’16 begins, with Reid’s future already being debated and predicted, the Republicans have to wonder if they can miss an opportunity again.

The good news for the GOP is that Reid arguably is in worse shape than six years ago, a national symbol of dysfunctional government poised to run in a state now dominated by Republicans. And at the top of the heap is Gov. Brian Sandoval, who is everything Angle was not: Smooth, popular and Teflon.

Sandoval, as I wrote in Politico is the anti-Reid, and the effort to recruit him, by Wicker and others, is only just beginning. Pretty soon now, someone is going to take a poll, which will show Sandoval defeating Reid, almost surely by double digits.

But as Republicans prepare to consecrate Sandoval as the savior, primed to defeat the father six years after he beat the son (Rory Reid lost to Sandoval for governor in 2010), the GOP messiah has evinced no interest in the Senate. And with Rep. Joe Heck, the second-best candidate against Reid making a nearly Shermanesque statement last week, the dropoff in viability is precipitous. (See list of potential Reid challengers below.)

Some smart Republicans think – again – that anyone who draws breath has a chance against Reid because he is so weak. (“Harry Reid is going to lose, no matter who runs,” one high-level GOP insider told me.) And others, as well as some Democrats, think Reid may do what Wicker suggests and choose the quiet life in the Anthem Country Club over another campaign bloodbath.

My default positions on Reid and Sandoval for some time have been the former will not retire and the latter will not run. But neither of those is absolute, so it’s possible we could see a Sandoval-Reid matchup or even a Sandoval-Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto race.

Possible. But not likely.

Nobody has loved being governor more than Sandoval, he and Reid have worked well together (Sandoval even said the state benefits from having a senator in leadership) and the governor is more interested in being on the bench (maybe even the supreme one) or becoming the first Nevadan ever to be named to a presidential Cabinet.

But if I were advising the governor, who has jumped to other jobs in the middle of terms before, I might tell him to be sure he doesn’t want to be a senator before he rules it out. He would become a national star, which could set him up for future glory on the Supreme Court or – dare I say it? – the White House. Sandoval has rare political skills, all the raw materials to be on  a national ticket.

Is being governor for the next four years the best path? Is being in the Club of 100 better? Or should he just see what happens after the 2015 Legislature?

Sandoval does not, I’d guess, have the luxury of time. He will probably have to tell Wicker & Co something by the first quarter of next year, so they can line up a second choice if he’s not interested. He might be able to wait until the end of the session, but that’s dicey.

I don’t see Sandoval as likely to succumb to pressure from big names or a torrent of blandishments. He is a careful guy, who will take his time deciding whether he is willing to risk a fairly pristine career to take on the man who has a Scorched Earth Machine always ready to go.

It’s one thing to be a heavy favorite, as Sandoval might be against Reid. It’s quite another to face the reality, as one prominent Republican told me, “Even if you run against Reid and win, you lose.”

But will Reid run?

I have argued for months that not only was he almost certain to do so, but that even if the Democrats lost the Senate, he would be re-elected leader and seek a sixth term. Immediately after Wicker’s needle, Reid’s folks put out the word that he was looking for a campaign manager.


If Reid were not going to run, he would not telegraph it until he had a succession plan – that is, until he tipped off Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who wants to be in the U.S. Senate. And he would wait until as long as he could.

But is Reid receding even possible? I continue to think it’s remote, but one Democrat who understands Reid and believes he is running put it this way: “I don’t rule out that he says, ‘I have to go raise $25-$30 million, get my ass ripped off for 18 months, not be in a good position for re-election and if I win I come back to the Bickersons.' (warring caucus factions) I’m not sure he wants to go through a hell of a re-election to come back to that.”


But Harry Reid does not react the way others might. He seems almost insensate, refusing to react to stimuli the way similarly situated politicians might. With his approval (or lack thereof) numbers, the prospect of a humiliating defeat, all the signs the end is near, any other elected official might bow out, might announce his retirement.

But having come back from two losses in the 1970s, having survived Senate races in 1998 and 2010 few thought he would, facing the prospect of a potentially favorable electorate and his revived team in 2016, Reid may just think he is immortal.


One man’s take on the strongest Republican contenders against Reid, in order:

  1. Gov. Brian Sandoval: His numbers are not quite the reverse of Reid’s, but close enough.  He doesn’t want to run, but if changed his mind, all that stands in his way is the possibility of a disastrous legislative session, which seems unlikely even with the dramatic reconfiguration Maybe Reid can get the president to offer Sandoval an appointment he can’t refuse (2005 redux). (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 70 percent; chances he runs: 10 percent)
  2. Rep. Joe Heck: Heck is a brigadier general, a workhorse and tough as nails. He has no presence outside Clark County, but if he relishes a run against Reid, he could fix that. But he doesn’t – he loves the House -- although the pressure will be intense if Sandoval says no. (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 60 percent; chances he runs: 5 percent)
  3. Rep. Mark Amodei: He is a northerner who could appeal to moderates in the South because of his record. But he seems to have zero interest: “It’s not on my radar screen,” Amodei told me recently. He was in the right place at the right time to end up in a friendly congressional district in 2011, being nominated by the party he had just chaired after Dean Heller was appointed to John Ensign’s seat. He will not risk that, and he does not want to be in DC forever. (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 55 percent; chances he runs: 1 percent)
  4. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki: He still blames Reid for his indictment on charges that were later dropped. But he will not be in office as of January, and he may want to make money after decades of public service. He already has business in China and is there regularly. But he also has thought a lot about being a U.S. senator and he would be a motivated, credible candidate. (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 55 percent; chances he runs: 40 percent)
  5. State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson: He used to live in DC, and he would be at midterm. He is a moderate Republican who could really assert himself in 2015. He’s ambitious, confident and determined. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has an interest. (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 55 percent; chances he runs: 40 percent)
  6. Lt. Gov-elect Mark Hutchison: I wonder if he regrets not running for attorney general (you know, a real job) in a year in which he clearly would have won. Nevertheless, he ran for lieutenant governor halfway through his first term as a state senator, so could he really leave another job halfway through to run for the U.S. Senate? Tough. And I think, as ambitious as he obviously is, Hutchison is waiting for Sandoval – to leave, that is. (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 55 percent; chances he runs: 30 percent)
  7. State Sen. Greg Brower: He wanted to be in Congress after Heller was appointed, but he couldn’t survive that process. He will have a chance to distinguish himself in the 2015 session, and he also is seen as very ambitious. He has a good profile, especially as a former U.S. attorney, But he will not be at midterm and would have to give up his seat. (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 55 percent; chances he runs: 10 percent)
  8. Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers: He is pursuing a “Last Man Standing” strategy – that is, he already has announced under the assumption that everyone else will not run and he will be…. He’s run statewide before (for governor), he is beloved by many on the right for trying to block a 2003 tax increase and he is smart as hell. He has baggage from the Legislature, but he is not be dismissed. (Chances he beats Reid if he runs: 55 percent; chances he runs: 35 percent)
  9. The accidental constitutional officers, a k a Adam Laxalt, Barbara Cegavske, Dan Schwartz and Ron Knecht: No one would have thought a year ago that any of them would be in office. But now they all are statewide elected officials and some, or all, may have delusions of grander offices. Knecht especially has a God complex, so his candidacy would not surprise me at all. And, remember, they will all be at midterm. (Chances any of them beat Reid if he runs: 50 percent; chances any of them run: 60 percent)
  10.  The field: Reid looks so dead on arrival in 2016 that many other Republican vultures might take a look, current and former elected officials alike. I could name a lot of names, but consider what will happen if the group above punts. Or even if they don’t, might we see a repeat of 2010, with too many Republicans seeing 2016 as their time? Chances any of them beat Reid if he runs: 45 percent; chances any of them run: 65 percent)