It was 1987 when Harry Reid met Joe Biden. Reid was new to the Senate and had a favor asking the chairman of the judiciary committee.
“There was one person from Nevada who had been appointed a federal judge and I didn’t want that person to be a federal judge,” Reid said.
He didn’t know Biden, but their conversation ended with an assurance. “You don’t want this person to be a judge,” Biden said to him, “he won’t be a judge.”
Over the next several decades, the pair maintained a mutually beneficial relationship through Reid’s dozen years in the Senate leadership and Biden’s tenure as Vice President.
Biden was Reid’s friend in the White House. Reid endorsed Biden as president and was instrumental in casting the six votes in Nevada this year.
Now Reid has another favor to ask: he wants to leave Iowa and New Hampshire, the first and second states in the selection of the nation’s president, aside and begin the nomination process in Nevada.
“I think we’re eligible to be the first state,” Reid said on a Zoom call from his home in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas. “Why? Because the power structure of this country is moving west.”
The retired senator would turn 50 years of political practice and tradition upside down.
For better or (many would argue) for worse, Iowa and New Hampshire have benefited from a self-continuing cycle: White House hopefuls descend upon the two states knowing that visits and the political press corps will in turn attract media coverage will focus on Iowa and New Hampshire because that’s where the presidential candidates are.
Nothing about the nomination process is set in stone – contrary to the instruction that all Iowa caucus stories mention corn or soybeans, and any major New Hampshire item must be labeled “flint” by the state’s voters.
The rules for the nomination process are set by the political parties. As party leader, the president has a great say in setting these rules.
Biden and Reid have spoken a few times since the election, Reid said, but the president-elect has other concerns right now: occupying his incipient administration, tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences, ensuring the country remains a functioning democracy . That didn’t stop Reid, who is still a great power in Nevada, from advocating for people near Biden and from taking up his proposal with members of the Democratic National Committee, the party’s governing body.
(For his part, 81-year-old Reid has his own priorities. While his pancreatic cancer is in remission thanks to experimental treatment, he continues to undergo regular chemotherapy and immunotherapy.)
I think we are entitled to be the first state. Why? Because the power structure of this country is moving west.
Former Senator from Nevada Harry Reid
As the Senate Majority Leader, Reid played a key role in transforming Nevada from an afterthought into one of the earliest presidential competitions, ranking third on the Democratic calendar as of 2008. “Nevada’s caucus worked well,” he said of his handicraft that persuaded the president to campaign seriously in the West. “But its usefulness is on the way out.”
In fact, Reid wants to end all gatherings and replace them with primaries, a sentiment that is widespread among Democrats who believe that primaries encourage greater participation and are therefore less democratic.
If Iowa was ever in danger of losing its privileged place on the political calendar, it is now after faulty software led to a debacle in February that delayed the caucus results for days. Controversies also followed in 2012 and 2016.
The biggest obstacle to Reid’s first vision in Nevada appears to be New Hampshire, the main destination of which is eight days after Iowa’s meetings.
State law requires New Hampshire to hold the country’s first presidential number, and Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who could teach Bulldogs a few things about tenacity, has made it a life’s work to make sure New Hampshire is never ousted – even if it does means that the competition takes place in the fall before a presidential election year.
“Message to Harry,” said Bob Mulholland, who served as one of California’s representatives on the DNC for nearly three decades. “Nevada won’t be the first elementary school. You will always be after New Hampshire. “
The Democrats are about two years away from setting their nomination rules and drawing up the 2024 calendar. There will be public hearings and private discussions, and committee votes, and more discussions, and more hearings, and so on.
Knowing a lot about negotiation and compromise, Reid made it clear that he would not insist that his state replace Iowa and New Hampshire if that jeopardized Nevada’s current place on the calendar. “I would like to be the first, but I won’t stab myself in the heart, just hold on to it when I can’t,” he said.
Still, he pointed out that Nevada – where nearly a third of the electorate in November consisted of Asian American, black, and Latin American voters – is more ethnically diverse and representative of America than Iowa or New Hampshire, which are predominantly white and rural.
This is exactly the argument Biden made to explain his disastrous performance in the first two competitions. He helped improve his campaign with a second place in Nevada and was happy: “We are alive!”
“You did it for me,” he said to the fans in Las Vegas. “Now we’re going to South Carolina and we’re going to win and take that back.”
And Biden did.
Given this experience and his unfortunate history in Iowa – Biden also lost hard in an attempt there in 2008 for the White House – the president-elect seems to have little sentimental attachment to the place. Certainly his understudy, California Senator Kamala Harris, wouldn’t mind if the inaugural competition took place in neighboring Nevada in 2024. (Though Heaven forbids, the vice-president-elect even seems to be pondering her future political outlook.)
Reid does not face any such reluctance. Having Biden and Harris in his corner crossed his mind, Reid admitted, and his usual poker face twisted with a smile as he enjoyed the upcoming political battle.