After release of the news that John Edwards would be lowering Nevada's place on his political priority roster and moving personnel out of the state, Reid said: "Any candidate who chooses to ignore Nevada and its rich diversity does so at their own peril."
Edwards' campaign has responded that Nevada continues to be important in his "early state" strategy -- focusing on Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- but many folks aren't buying the line. Hillary Clinton in the mean time has issued a statement that she is expanding her offices and campaign representation in Nevada.
Why is this important? On a couple of levels. . .
First, this blog reported last year that a major Democratic funder had stated that Reid had quietly, subtly offered Hillary Clinton a deal: that he would step down as Senate Majority Leader in 2009 in her favor if she would not run for the presidency.
Both Reid and Clinton have vigorously denied that this exchange took place but neither office has rejected that the comments were made by the well-placed donor. Such an effort would have had all of the trappings of full deniability -- and whether true or not true -- some in the Hillary Clinton camp believed that this was an effort by Reid's office to prod Clinton -- if not to keep her from running, then at least to keep the nascent, then undeclared Clinton campaign on edge.
Others saw this juicy rumor which I and others reported as a ploy of the Edwards' operatives to create a viral insurrection against a potential Hillary Clinton juggernaut. At the time, Obama's name had really not emerged as a viable competitor.
The thinking among insiders -- again, whether this was true or not true (and I have made comments in the past suggesting that if Harry Reid did make such an offer, that it would be ridiculously bad for him to offer and Clinton to accept) -- was that Harry Reid was using his influence to pry apart the stranglehold that the Northeastern liberal establishment had in picking presidential aspirants.
Harry Reid also maneuvered moving up the dates of the Nevada caucus between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary to assure a solid voice for the West -- and for working class, Hispanic-American, and non-WASP Democrats who were not as well represented in the Northeast voting establishment.
The move then by Reid was perceived by some to be pro-Edwards and anti-Hillary. I doubt that Reid was focused on personalities, but it is clear that his success in sculpting a new roster of political contests in the primary process threw up new speed bumps for the Clinton campaign.
But the Clinton campaign seems pretty immune to speed bumps. Hillary Clinton now leads with nearly 40% of voters among Democratic Nevadans. Edwards trails in third place behind Clinton and Obama.
Reid didn't care so much about who the candidate emerged to be, he has said, but he did want Nevada and the American West in general to count much more substantially in the primary process.
Reid is one of the party's big king-makers now, and Edwards' new course -- while perhaps essential given realistic calculations of resource constraints -- may signal the foreshocks of a collapsing campaign.
-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note
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