It has not been a good week for Harry Reid.
Nate Silver, famed political statistician, said this week that the stars are not in fact aligning for Reid to remain majority leader of the Senate. Bruce Braley, a congressman from Iowa who was supposed to help Reid keep his title by winning the Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Tom Harkin, may well have yapped himself out of a victory. And new polling out midweek suggests Democrats’ efforts to make the billionaire Koch brothers the issue in campaigns around the country is backfiring because, alas, most Americans don’t know who they are and don’t care what they do.
It started when Silver went on Sunday’s ABC “This Week” to reveal that his latest calculations give Republicans a 60 percent chance of picking up the six seats they need to retake the Senate in November, and that they could win as many as 11.
By Monday, the Democratic spin machine was in full gear. It turns out Silver, whom they gleefully regaled after the 2012 presidential election for picking all 50 states correctly, has, in the past, incorrectly picked some races, including Senate races in Montana and North Dakota. It also turns out Silver’s method is to assess the probability things will happen rather than predict actual outcomes. “The DSCC,” he wrote in a cheeky column responding to a Democratic Senate Campaign Committee memo attacking him, “can’t have it both ways.”
On Tuesday, there was Braley, a former president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association who has made a name for himself as a sharp questioner of witnesses during House of Representatives committee hearings, perhaps fumbling away an election. Grainy video, reminiscent of that which caught Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” diatribe in the 2012 campaign, emerged showing Braley standing in front of a table of booze at an event in Texas, explaining to the trial lawyers assembled there why it was crucial they get him elected to the Senate. If he didn’t win and Democrats didn’t retain the majority, he explained, then his fellow Iowan, Sen. Chuck Grassley, “a farmer without a law degree,” would become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It is one thing to be caught siding with trial lawyers against regular people. But it’s another to cozy up to trial lawyers in Texas by warning against the dangers of dumb farmers from Iowa leading important congressional committees. And it’s still another when Iowans find out about it.
Presto change-o. Braley went from being presumptive favorite to locked in a three-way battle with two Republicans who can now tell potential funders they are within margin of error polling distance of the favorite. The throat-clearing, back-tracking and apologizing could be heard all the way from Iowa to Texas.
That wasn’t even all that went wrong for Reid on Tuesday. Later in the day, he found himself personally in hot water with the Federal Elections Commission when he was forced to return campaign funds used to pay his granddaughter for holiday gifts she bought for staff and supporters.
And then a George Washington University Battleground poll came out and the news got still worse. It turns out the attacks on the Koch brothers – a centerpiece of the Democrats’ strategy to maintain control of the Senate – has been a complete flop. The strategy of pointing out the Kochs’ ties to various industries and support of conservative organizations to fire up the Democratic base has not, in fact, fired up that base.
The poll showed 52 percent of Americans don’t know who the Kochs are, and 11 percent know who they are but have little or no opinion of them. That’s nearly two-thirds of voters who have little or no view on the men Democrats have anointed as the villains of this campaign. One Democratic operative even suggested the party should abandon the strategy in the North Carolina Senate race.
Reid spent Wednesday dealing with the fallout from Tuesday. By Thursday, there were more problems at hand.
Just as the Rasmussen poll that showcased Braley’s sudden vulnerability came out, the congressman hurt himself again. In an effort to make amends for his Grassley gaffe, he tried to bolster his farming bona fides by pointing out his parents both grew up on farms. He sent out the obligatory press release and included on his Facebook page a picture of a farm. But that farm wasn’t his parents’ farm. It wasn’t in Iowa. It wasn’t even in the United States. It was in England.
Thursday it surfaced that a handful of Democratic politicians ran afoul of the law. The mayor of Charlotte, N.C., resigned after being arrested for bribery and other official charges.
Indeed, it was the kind of week that could tempt Republicans to pop the champagne a little early. But, as Reid knows, it is a long way to November. There are months still for Republican candidates to create gaffes of their own, for Obamacare to stabilize and for President Obama’s approval ratings to improve from their present lows.
Still, one wonders if this was the kind of week that leaves Reid, the former boxer, just wanting to punch something. Just be careful, Mr. Majority Leader. Your luck has not been so good recently.