Rory Reid: name, famous father, won’t sway voters in Nevada governor’s race

By Sandra Chereb, AP
Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rory Reid takes on name in NV governor’s race

CARSON CITY, Nev. — As chairman of the powerful Clark County Commission in Las Vegas, Rory Reid, 47, is not exactly a newcomer to the public spotlight.

Even so, his name is often linked to that of his father, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The younger Reid is hoping to simplify how he is introduced if he’s successful in his bid for the Nevada governor’s office.

He’s expected to coast through the June 8 Democratic primary, with only one little-known Democratic opponent, Frederick L. Conquest of Las Vegas, to a spot on the November ballot. He’s been campaigning for over a year, quietly amassing more than $3 million and will have a hefty stash when the campaigning turns tough this summer.

Yet, both father and son are trailing in polls to potential Republican contenders.

The elder Reid, seeking a fifth term in the U.S. Senate, is in the cross-hairs of Republican conservatives. Late last month, thousands attended a rally sponsored by tea party activists in his hometown of Searchlight. Twelve GOP candidates have lined up for the chance to take him on after the primary.

The Reid name could provide a double bulls-eye on the ballot.

“In any other year, it would have been a benefit,” said Kenneth Fernandez, assistant political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “Only until this year have we seen it could be sort of a drawback.”

Eric Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno, said the Reid name has opened doors and attracted campaign donors for Rory Reid in the past.

“However, in this particular campaign, being on the same ballot with his father is not going to be a plus. Rory inherits everybody who doesn’t like Harry,” Herzik said. “The positives get you in a position to run, but now all the negatives come back.”

Rory Reid doesn’t buy it.

“I’ve been traveling around the state, talking to Nevadans for over a year,” he said. “Nobody wants to talk about my dad. They want to know about me, what I’d do about jobs.

“I think ultimately people make a decision based on who will make their life better,” he said. “They either vote for one person or another. I don’t think they do a genealogy study to determine that.”

A partner in Nevada’s prominent Lionel, Sawyer & Collins law firm, Rory Reid cut his political teeth in the mid 1990s as a member of the state Taxicab Authority, where decorum often had to be gaveled to order. In 1999, he ran unopposed for state Democratic Party chairman, and in 2008 he surprised many when he signed on early to chair Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Nevada while his father declined to make an immediate endorsement.

In 2002 Rory Reid was elected to the Clark County Commission, the state’s largest and most powerful local government. Holding sway over nearly three-fourths of the state’s population, the county commission also has seen more than its share of political corruption scandals.

During the past decade, four former commissioners were convicted and sentenced to prison in the Las Vegas “G-Sting” corruption scandal involving a strip club owner buying political favors. A fifth pleaded guilty to filing a false statement of residency, a gross misdemeanor.

Reid was not involved in the corruption cases, and has been picked by fellow commissioners to serve as chairman for three straight terms, making him just the fourth person in the 100-year history of Nevada’s most populous county to do so.

“Rory and I were friends and remain so,” said former Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, a Republican who served 28 years until being forced out by term limits two years ago. “We voted the same way on most things … We were able to reform several policies and I think turn the county around in a positive way.”

Said UNLV’s Fernandez, “I think people see him as a sort of squeaky clean, hardworking member of that body. I think that helps him.”

But he’s never faced a tight election contest and will run into a tough, equally well-financed foe if GOP front-runner Brian Sandoval, a former state assemblyman, attorney general and federal judge, wins the five-way Republican primary. Sandoval is challenging incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons along with Mike Montandon, former mayor of North Las Vegas, and two others for the GOP nomination.

Ironically, it was Sen. Reid who nominated Sandoval for the lifetime federal judgeship. Sandoval resigned in September to take on Gibbons, and then possibly Reid’s son.

Rory Reid has come under criticism from some of his GOP contenders for not discussing how he would have handled an $805 million shortfall in the $6.8 billion state budget. A special legislative session in February resulted in $300 million in budget cuts and new fees on mining and the financial industries.

Sandoval, before the session, said he would cut state employee salaries, reduce state health premium subsidies and eliminate subsidies for retirees. He also proposed privatizing some state services.

With some estimates projecting a huge $3 billion to $4 billion state budget shortfall going into 2011, Reid has said he will state his priorities before the general election. He notes that a panel created by the Legislature to study Nevada’s revenue structure is expected to make recommendations this summer.

“I shouldn’t prejudge that effort or try to push them in one direction,” he said. “I’m going to let them do their work and then react to it. I reserve the right to disagree with them.”

In addition to running as the second Reid on the ballot, Rory Reid also must navigate a north-south rift. Voters in rural northern Nevada are more conservative and distrustful of the state’s population center and power hub in the south.

“Rory Reid is assumed to have more political experience than he actually has,” said political scientist Herzik. “He really hasn’t been exposed statewide. His campaign chops have yet to be tested.”

Reid’s aware of the challenge, but said he’ll tackle it in his own, methodical way.

“I’m just going to be what I am, a thoughtful guy very interested in policy. I think that’s what Nevada needs,” he said. “I’m willing to be patient.

“This is a job interview,” he said of his campaign. “I want a new job. I want to be governor.”

And right now, he said, he and voters are “just getting to know each other.”

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