Blasts of AM radio better than poll on what Reid is all about |

Blasts of AM radio better than poll on what Reid is all about

John L. Smith

Whenever I want to know how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is doing, I don’t take a poll. I take a drive. Once I’m on the road, I adjust the AM dial and peek over the back fence into the world of right-wing radio. The yard is full of pit bulls, Dobermans and ill-tempered Chihuahuas, and they all salivate at the prospect of taking a bite out of Reid. Over the years, he’s given them ample opportunities and has a few patches on his britches to show for it.

There’s no bigger dog in the fight over Reid’s hindquarters than Rush Limbaugh, who long ago nicknamed the Nevada Democrat “Dingy Harry.” Limbaugh is the GOP’s wickedly effective political kidney-puncher and one-man talking points memo. He’s a media empire unto himself, and the Democrats can only dream of duplicating Limbaugh’s success even as they fantasize about his painful demise.

Not long ago Limbaugh and Reid went nose-to-nose in one of the most entertaining unimportant political stories of the year. Reid thumped Limbaugh in a letter to the CEO of Clear Channel for calling American military personnel who oppose the Iraq war “phony soldiers,” and the radio host made great hay out of the senator’s vitriolic missive.

The end result was the Reid “smear” letter was auctioned for $2.1 million with proceeds going to charity.

Whether it’s Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Levin or Southern Nevada’s very own Alan Stock, the guard dogs of the conservative airwaves all have something in common: a snarling contempt for Harry Reid.

This side of folks named Clinton, the Nevada Democrat is surely the most vilified politician on right-wing radio.

And the fact they’re still barking about him tells me more than this week’s Review-Journal Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey showing – surprise, surprise – Reid’s popularity mixed among Nevada voters as he completes his first year as majority leader.

As his enemies regularly point out, Reid has burnished his image with conservatives by calling President George W. Bush a “liar” and a “loser” and for showing a tireless pugnacity that was not the trademark of his ousted predecessor, Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Daschle was the intelligent gentleman who guided the minority party and generally let his whip Harry Reid do the eye-gouging and groin-kicking. Daschle was polite all the way into retirement after being targeted by the GOP.

Reid is now the majority leader, but unlike Daschle, he still mixes it up on a daily basis. And courting that partisan controversy is a big reason why he is considered such a “lightning rod” and “polarizing figure,” Mason-Dixon managing director Brad Coker told the Review-Journal this week.

Polarizing might be the most polite thing Reid has been called in years. Careful, or you might make the senator from Searchlight blush.

In answer to the question, “How would you rate the performance of Harry Reid as Nevada’s U.S. senator?” 12 percent of voters surveyed rated him “excellent,” 29 percent “good,” 16 percent “only fair” and 42 “poor” with 1 percent having no opinion.

Frankly, I would like to interview those people who have no opinion of Harry Reid. It seems the man has held office at some level in Nevada since shortly after statehood. I think Mark Twain mentioned Reid in “Roughing It.” Doesn’t everybody have an opinion?

Although Reid has argued in the past the Mason-Dixon poll tilts to the right to fit into a newspaper that angles the same direction, my own unscientific survey concurs.

Some 40 years after he first won election to the Nevada Assembly, we don’t need a poll to tell us a lot of people aren’t wild about Harry.

Not to digress, but those of you who have been married 40 years – or four years, for that matter – should ask your spouse whether you rate as “excellent,” “good,” “only fair” or “poor.” Chances are excellent you won’t like the answer.

The fact 57 percent rates him at “only fair” or higher and just 42 percent of voters can’t stand the sight of him is the real news, especially in a business where you only need one more vote than the other guy to keep your job.

Unlike some who have gone before, Reid isn’t going anywhere without a fight. That’s why right-wing radio can’t stop howling about him.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.