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Harry Reid faces one wild-card factor in November’s election: None of the above.
Nearly 11 percent of voters in Nevada’s Democratic primary last week chose “none” over Reid, reflecting a sense of frustration within his own party over the Senate majority leader’s performance.
The 12,335 Democrats who voted for “none of these candidates” — a ballot option on statewide races since 1976 — may still be angry at Reid in November. Moderate Republicans and independents also could throw their support for the “none” vote, possibly hurting Reid in a tight race with conservative tea party-backed candidate Sharron Angle.
Reid has faced a tight election before in which the “none” vote played a factor. In 1998, he squeaked out a 428-vote victory over then Republican Rep. John Ensign; “none” received 8,125 votes, or 2 percent of the total ballots.
On Tuesday, Reid, who is seeking a fifth term, got 87,374 votes, or 75 percent, in a primary with 30 percent voter turnout. He had three unknown challengers, and all lost to “none.”
Reid’s campaign downplayed the “none” votes.
“We are confident Sen. Reid will receive the necessary support from Nevadans needed to win re-election in November,” the campaign said in a statement.
The “none” option is particularly popular this election year with voters frustrated by partisan bickering and the status quo.
Even in the crowded Republican U.S. Senate primary, “none” fared better than seven of the 11 candidates beat by Angle, a former state assemblywoman endorsed by tea party groups. Angle received 70,422 votes, or 40 percent. “None” had 3,090, or 1.8 percent.
“It’s something that shouldn’t be ignored by the Reid people,” said Eric Herzik, political scientist at the University of Nevada, Reno. “Anytime you’re getting double digits ‘none of the above,’ it shows some sort of discontent.”
So what are voters mad about? The possibilities are many: Politics in general, health care reform or even Nevada’s sour economy.
“People are out of work. They are losing their homes. So they are going to vote against anything they think is the establishment,” said state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno, a 38-year veteran who called this election season the “most vicious political campaigning that I have ever observed.”
Though “none of these candidates” didn’t sway any outcomes in Tuesday’s primary, it has in the past.
Historically, “none” has been especially popular in races where choices are few or voters know little about candidates. In Tuesday’s two-way Republican primary for state controller, “none” received 25 percent, just nine votes shy of the second-place finisher.
Under state law, “none of these candidates” is a nonbinding option available only in statewide races. Even if it gets the most votes, it doesn’t win or nullify the election. The candidate who gets the most votes is the winner.
So why even vote for “none”?
“It’s a form of registering your opinion. A non-decision is still a decision,” Herzik said.
Reid didn’t have any primary opposition in his last two re-elections and therefore wasn’t on the primary ballot to receive “none” votes then.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press