In Las Vegas, African-Americans Rally Around Reid

Even before word surfaced of his characterizations of President Obama's skin tone and dialect, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was facing a tough re-election fight. In Las Vegas, African-American supporters are rallying around Reid — while many voters have their doubts about him.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has his hands full with health care and now, add to his agenda, a fight for his political life. Senator Reid, a Democrat of Nevada, is facing a tough re-election battle and that was the case even before the revelation of a controversial statement that he made. He told the authors of a new book that Barack Obama was able to win the presidency because he is light-skinned and speaks without, what Reid called, a Negro dialect.

NPR's Ted Robbins went to Las Vegas and has this story on the challenges the Senate majority leader faces.

TED ROBBINS: The 250 guests at the African-Americans for Harry Reid kick-off luncheon are not likely to vote for anyone else this November. But they were still talking about his remarks. At least one speaker, Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, even pondered how Martin Luther King would have reacted.

Commissioner LAWRENCE WEEKLY (Clark County, Nevada): What would Dr. King say to Senator Harry Reid right now?

Unidentified Woman #1: All right.

Commissioner WEEKLY: I believe - this isn't my own thoughts - I believe that Dr. King would say, all is forgiven.

Unidentified Man: All is forgiven.

Commissioner WEEKLY: All is forgiven. Let's move on, you brilliant, faithful servant.

(Soundbite of applause)

ROBBINS: African-Americans make up just eight percent of Nevada's population, but Harry Reid is likely to need every vote in November. One recent poll shows him with a statewide approval rating below 35 percent. Another shows him trailing potential Republican challengers.

To see why he's struggling right now, let's go across town to the Egg Works Restaurant, south of the Las Vegas Strip.

Unidentified Woman #2: Can I get a wheat and a rye dry, please?

Unidentified Woman #3: Yup.

ROBBINS: This is a locals restaurant. All kinds of people are here: Democrats, Republicans, black, white, Hispanic, young and old. Some, like Mary Ellis(ph) and Gareth Davey(ph) like what Harry Reid is doing in Washington.

Mr. GARETH DAVEY: He's all about the reform of health care, you know? And he'll get our vote because of that more than anything because we don't have health care. And at the same time, we have two children who don't have health care.

ROBBINS: Others at the Egg Works are not Reid fans. Allie Sturgis(ph) and Heather Hall(ph) were actually talking about Harry Reid before I walked up. Hall is a Republican. She thinks since Reid became Senate majority leader, he's been more of a partisan Washington Democrat than an advocate for his home state. And Hall says Nevada needs an advocate.

Ms. HEATHER HALL: We're number one in foreclosures. We have, I think, it's the second highest unemployment rate in the country. And there's a lot of things going on in Nevada that really a lot of people are affected in a very negative way. And I don't see his role there trying to help us.

ROBBINS: Allie Sturgis is a Democrat who thinks Harry Reid has become arrogant. She's looking for someone else to support.

Ms. ALLIE STURGIS: I'm hoping that there's somebody out there that can do a better job. I'm hoping that somebody will rise to the occasion and do what's right for Nevada, instead of themselves.

ROBBINS: That's the perception Harry Reid is facing. Las Vegas columnist and political commentator John Ralston calls it Reid fatigue.

Mr. JOHN RALSTON (Political Columnist): He's been in office here for 40 years. He's not a guy who can go out and energize people because of his personality. He'd rather be in a backroom somewhere. He's not a traditional politician. And you just have the unpopularity of the Democratic agenda right now, and that explains a lot.

ROBBINS: Eleven Republicans are running for their party's nomination. They will bloody one another by the June primary. Then whoever emerges will face Reid who's reportedly raising $25 million for the general campaign. And Nevada Democrats have one of the best political organizations in the country. So no one is counting Harry Reid out, but he'll have to run a mistake-free campaign from now on in order to win a fifth term in the Senate.

Ted Robbins, NPR News.

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