Less than ten months out from Election Day, Harry Reid has to confront a hard reality. After he helps pass historic health care legislation, it's time for him to announce his retirement.
Recently, the majority leader was quoted by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in their new book Game Change as saying that Obama's light skin, and the fact that he didn't speak with a "Negro dialect" were clear advantages in his attempt to become the first African American president of the United States. The quote, for which he immediately apologized, was indefensible and unequivocally inexcusable from a leader of the 21st century Democratic party.
But the comment isn't the reason that Harry Reid should retire; it just underscores the broader problem.
Harry Reid cannot win reelection.
Reid had shown alarming vulnerability in almost every poll taken since early 2009. In response, his campaign started advertising especially early, with 30-second spots meant to reintroduce Reid to his voting public. Some of the ads highlighted the legislation Reid had guided through the Senate. Others focused on the power that Nevada enjoys by having their senator as majority leader.
But months after the advertising began, Reid's numbers have gotten worse, not better. A new Las Vegas Review-Journal poll gives him the worst unfavorable rating on record and shows him losing badly to all three potential Republican opponents, including one who is known to less than half of the state. Those polls were taken before Reid's recent comments came to light.
Harry Reid has reached that place in American politics where campaign money offers only marginal returns. His constituents know him well -- they need no introduction -- and they don't like him.
He may not yet be willing to accept it, but Harry Reid has found himself in almost the exact same position as Chris Dodd. The only chance he has of keeping his Senate seat in the Democratic caucus is to give it up. The process of accepting that could not have been easy for Senator Dodd; leaving a career on someone else's terms is one of the tougher realities of professional politics.
But Dodd took the high road. In recognition of the impossible difficulties he would face attempting to get reelected, Dodd stepped down as an act in furtherance of the agenda he had spent his 30 year career championing. In explaining his retirement, Dodd said, "None of us are irreplaceable. None of us are indispensable. Those who think otherwise are dangerous."
Reid has the chance to heed those words.
At this point, no one in the country better understands the value -- and necessity -- of the 60th vote in the Senate than Harry Reid. He knows exactly what's at stake. Just because he deserves to seek reelection doesn't mean he should.
It's not like he'd be going out without accomplishment. He has held his factious caucus together to vote unanimously in support of historic health care legislation, an achievement that puts him among an elite few majority leaders of the last hundred years. And in the year to come, he can continue to play a role in the economic recovery by ushering a jobs stimulus through his chamber once again, and by seeing financial regulation reform through to the president's desk.
As the leader of his party in the Senate, he has to put the interests of his caucus ahead of his own. He should retire for the sake of party, and on behalf of the important work he is leading them through.
It's what a statesman would do.