Numbers looking grim for Senate's Harry Reid

By the Herald editorial staff

A central figure in the stubborn battle to keep nuclear waste away from deep, safe deposit in Yucca Mountain is falling into a cavern of his own making.

Wednesday's editorial, "Reason has yet to prevail in nuclear waste debate," touched on Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his opposition to Yucca Mountain as a safe-storage site for nuclear waste.

We'd like to go further today, with more about Reid.

He is probably the linchpin of the Obama administration's anti-Yucca Mountain attitude.

Reid has staked his political career on this one subject. As Senate majority leader, the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate, he wields great power.

But it seems to us, subjectively, that he wields that power ineffectually.

And recent polls in Nevada indicate, objectively, that he might not be in a position of power much longer.

It won't necessarily be the Senate that makes that decision, if it is made. It would be the voters of Nevada.

They appear to have had enough.

There's a revealing anecdote about Reid's style of leadership told by the publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in the state.

We'll get to that.

First, the poll.

Conducted in late August by the famously reliable Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, the poll shows Reid with a profound drop from previous highs.

In his last campaign, in 2006, he received 61 percent of the vote.

That's huge and would seem insurmountable.

But having now seen their star's performance as majority leader, the enthusiasm of Nevada voters has waned.

The new poll shows 50 percent of Nevada voters have an unfavorable view of Reid while 37 percent have a favorable view.

That's almost an exact reversal of his political fortunes.

Now polls aren't elections. Things could turn around for him. But with an election in 2010, he has little time.

The poll shows Reid trailing a Republican who has never held a double-digit lead in an election.

He also trails by double digits another Republican, a sitting member of Congress.

In other words, this year's majority leader could turn out to be next year's has-been.

Reid is a puzzlement.

In TV appearances he seems to some as a weak spokesman without much energy.

Insiders see something else.

The Almanac of American Politics, a respected, nonpartisan reference book, says Reid "is soft-spoken and frank, a dogged and unrelenting partisan."

And it notes, "Reid's problem is that there are so many newcomers to Nevada, most of them Republicans unfamiliar with his work in ... 40 years of public life."

Apparently another place where Reid has slipped up is in failing to bring home to Nevada at least some of the rewards that usually go with leadership in Congress.

The Review-Journal notes that Nevada ranked last in stimulus dollars per capita, while the Las Vegas unemployment rate is 13.1 percent.

And now for the anecdotal evidence. It is contained in a column by the publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Sherman Frederick.

He tells of that newspaper's director of advertising meeting Reid at a chamber of commerce gathering.

"I hope you go out of business," Reid is quoted as telling the ad manager.

The remarks were directed at the newspaper's news coverage and editorial pages, although the ad manager has nothing to do with either.

"To fully capture the magnitude of Reid's remark (and to stop him from doing it to others)," Frederick wrote, "it must be called what it was -- a full-on threat by a bully who has forgotten that he was elected to office to protect Nevadans, not sound like he's shaking them down."

Now it is unlikely that whoever emerges as the next senator from Nevada will be any less opposed to Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste site than Reid is.

And it is still true that President Obama has yet to say an encouraging word about ending the long search for a solution to our nuclear waste problems.

But the loss of the Senate majority leader's voice in the debate would be a move in the direction of rationality.

For that reason alone, Tri-Citians might want to include the 2010 Senate election in Nevada as one to watch.