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Will the 'Tea Party' be very sweet to Nevada's embattled Harry Reid?

February 15, 2010 |  1:04 pm

A tired Democrat senator Harry Reid of Nevada

The burgeoning tea party movement has already put on a national convention, wooed some big-name backers and – of utmost importance in politics – shown some electoral swagger.

Now, according to Nevada uber-pundit Jon Ralston, it has qualified as a third party in third party-friendly Nevada and plans to field a U.S. Senate candidate.

For Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the senior senator from the Silver state who’s spending Presidents' Day gold-mining in San Francisco in his own Nevada dialect, this might take some sting out of another bad news day for Democrats.

Nevada’s got a big sagebrush rebel streak, particularly outside Las Vegas. Washington is....

...anathema, in part because, as it does across so much of the West, the federal government owns much of the state as an inattentive landlord. So the “outsider” label sticks pretty well, even on major party candidates.

In 1992, H. Ross Perot grabbed a quarter of the presidential vote, handing the state to soon-to-be President Clinton. In 1996, Perot took 10%. Sorry, Bob Dole.

During the 2008 Nevada Republican caucus, conservative Ron Paul came in second, though most of the top candidates skipped the state won by Mitt Romney.

This time around, there’s also a lot of anger brewing over Washington’s economic and spending policies, which haven’t seemed to stimulate much in Nevada, except anger and debate. The unemployment rate is the country’s second-highest (13%) and state lawmakers are talking about budget cuts that would strip elementary schools of teachers, the mentally ill of housing and the poor and incontinent of diapers.

No surprise then, as our colleague Kathleen Hennessey reported Monday, that Tea-publicans are making their presence felt in Nevada (along with several other states). And you'll never guess which popular former Alaska Republican governor will speak at a Tea Party rally in Harry Reid's hometown next month.

So, by virtue of his existence, potential candidate Jon Ashjian – whoever he is – could make a big difference in Nevada’s hotly-contested Senate race. Reid’s poll numbers stink, but even the most prominent of his potential GOP opponents are considered second-tier.

A conservative third-party candidate party didn't stop Republicans from winning the governor's office in strongly Democratic New Jersey last November. But this is Nevada.

A credible third party option could split conservative votes enough to make Harry Reid (who's welcoming President Obama Friday to his favorite place to blow money not reserved for college tuition) very, very happy.

-- Ashley Powers

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Photo: Harry Hamburg / Associated Press (a tired Reid).

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