Residency issues knocked out a handful of Harry Reid’s colleagues over the years, but the outgoing Senate Democratic leader didn’t even pretend that he got back to his home state of Nevada on a regular basis.
“It’s amazing what I have not done,” said Reid in the recent cover story for GW Magazine. “I don’t go home every week. I never have, even when I was in the House. I don’t like banquets, parades.”
Reid has never been known to pull rhetorical punches, so his comments aren’t a complete surprise. But they are remarkable, considering how multiple senators during Reid’s three decades in Congress lost re-election, at least in part, because they were portrayed as having “gone Washington” and not spent enough time in their home states.
Residency questions helped take out Reid’s predecessor. In 2004, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota lost re-election to Republican John Thune, who aired a television ad with a clip of Daschle proclaiming, “I’m a D.C. resident.”
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu got into trouble in 2014 in her bid for a fourth term when voters figured out she claimed her parents’ Louisiana home as her primary residence while owning a $2.5 million home in D.C. She lost re-election 56 percent to 44 percent to Republican Bill Cassidy.
Earlier that year, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts nearly lost a GOP primary race when it became clear that the incumbent had a home in the Sunflower State, but he rented it out because he lived in Virginia. Roberts was renominated 48 percent to 41 percent and later scored a closer-than-expected general election victory.
In 2012, longtime Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar lost the GOP primary after being plagued by residency questions. Through the course of the campaign, voters learned that the incumbent stayed in a hotel when he traveled from Washington to Indiana, instead of having a home.
More recently in the Hoosier State, former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s comeback collapsed under the weight of residency questions (among other things). He started the 2016 race with a 20-point lead and lost to GOP Rep. Todd Young, 52 percent to 42 percent.
Reid had the advantage of running against flawed or underwhelming opponents in his 2004 and 2010 re-election races, but he also might have been understating his cross-country travel.
“Reid came home. I remember it,” said veteran Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston. “He has a house here. Maybe not as often as others, but he was definitely here.”
“Never an issue, except metaphorically, because some felt he lost touch with Nevada as he moved up in leadership and became more D.C. than Searchlight,” added Ralston, editor of The Nevada Independent, a newly-formed nonprofit news site.
In 2010, Reid called attacks on his residency “embarrassing” and called Searchlight (population: 539) home as Republicans highlighted his condo in Washington’s Ritz-Carlton.
The entire GW Magazine piece, written by veteran journalist Charles Babington, is an interesting read about Reid as the consummate Washington insider. His travel schedule would likely have been an escalating struggle considering the unpopularity of the Beltway, but by not seeking re-election, Reid gets to go out on his own terms.
Correction- 2:14pm | The original version of this story misidentified Daschle's leadership position during the 2004 elections. He was the minority leader.