By Karoun Demirjian | Las Vegas Sun
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — When it comes to public speaking, the style of the senior senator from Nevada has always trended more toward murmuring than masterful oratory.
But this summer, Harry Reid has been dishing out more than his regular share of made-for-the-camera zingers. He assumed baseball player Bryce Harper’s swagger to poke fun at a reporter’s “clown question, bro,” threw down at the U.S. Olympic committee for buying China-made uniforms, and launched a continuous, clear-throated barrage of verbal artillery fire at Mitt Romney for not releasing his tax returns.
During his speech to the Democratic National Convention tonight, Reid plans to keep up the pressure on Romney to release his tax returns. Reid is scheduled to speak about 4 p.m. Pacific time.
Although Nevada’s DNC delegation hopes sticking with that line will increase the crowd-pleasing quotient of the majority leader’s speech, they’re being cautious about predicting how rousing they expect Reid’s rhetoric to be.
“Harry is not flashy. He’s not a great orator. But his message is very straightforward, and it’s very sincere,” said Linda Cavazos, a Nevada delegate and an Obama for America volunteer.
“The thing I like about Harry Reid is he gets up there and he speaks in his nice, soft voice, and people shut up and listen to him,” said Richard Collins, a Nevada delegate.
Not always. Reid does have the power of his majority leadership to recommend him to Democratic audiences. But he failed to wow the crowd four years ago at what was an otherwise rousing convention in Denver, only half-holding the audience’s attention as he unleashed an impassioned screed on the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, John McCain.
In the years since that election, Reid has had more practice at being a public attack dog. Reid often verbalizes what President Barack Obama can’t or won’t say, piping up loudest when the moment calls for some open trashing of intransigent Republicans.
“Harry Reid is not an inspiring speaker,” said John Wanderer, a Nevada delegate. “But he can speak about the obstructionism of the Republicans better than anybody. They’ve held the country hostage and sacrificed the country for their own political purposes — (Reid) ought to know.”
From his perch in Congress, Reid might seem better equipped to talk about the Tea Party’s parliamentary tactics than Romney’s tax returns.
But both play into the wheelhouse of Republican-inspired frustrations that are politically tricky for the White House but perfect fodder for Reid, which is why Obama’s top campaign minds are happy to let the septuagenarian senator function as their offensive line.
“I was having a conversation with the president about this,” Patrick Gaspard, the executive director of the Democratic National Committee, told the Nevada delegation over breakfast Monday morning. “The president said, ‘I don’t know why the Romney campaign is choosing to challenge Harry Reid on this issue. Don’t they know that this guy was a boxing champion in the Army and the way he won was by letting the other guy just pummel on him for round after round, wear him out and then take him out at the end?’"
But not all Nevadans are excited to see Reid get back in the ring with Romney; they’d rather he use his national convention pulpit to advocate for specific issues that would help the Silver State.
“I’d like to hear him talk about education,” said Loretta Harper, a Nevada delegate and national co-chairwoman for Obama for America.
“I really hope he talks about the Dream Act,” said Elizabeth Foyt, an alternate for the Nevada delegation.
As things stand, Reid plans to hit on three major topics in what his staff estimates will be about a seven-minute speech: The “tough decisions” Obama has had to make as president, the Tea Party “takeover” of the Republican Party and Romney’s “secrecy” on his tax returns.
In this moment, on that roster of topics, Nevada delegates have no doubt that Reid won’t mince his words.
“He lets the world know how he feels,” said Dorie Guy, chairwoman of the Washoe Democratic Party. “You know, he’s becoming a better orator. And I’m glad to see him stepping up to the plate.”