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Harry Reid says Democratic race is 'far from being over'

Image: Harry Reid
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid speaks before a Democratic presidential primary debate, in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2020. Copyright John Locher AP
Copyright John Locher AP
By Leigh Ann Caldwell with NBC News Politics
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The former Nevada Senator and political kingmaker tells NBC News that none of the candidates should be counted out of the race.

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LAS VEGAS — Former Nevada Senator Harry Reid Wednesday said that the Democratic presidential race is still in the early stages and that none of the candidates should be counted out despite Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' early state success and lead in national polls.

In an interview with NBC News prior to the Democratic debate, Reid, who will not endorse a candidate before Nevada's caucuses on Saturday, said Sanders is leading because he has the most robust organization and has been running for president longer than anyone else.

"He has a very good organization. He didn't start his organization a few months ago, it's been going on for years," Reid said. "So take Nevada as an example: he has people out here twelve months out of the year. It's that way around a lot of the country. He's just ahead of everybody in his organization."

But, he added, "the race is far from being over."

"A lot can change and will change."

During the wide-ranging interview in his office at the Bellagio Wednesday afternoon, Reid, who retired from the Senate in 2016 after being the Democratic leader since 2007, showed why he remains a political kingmaker in the state.

Every candidate has met with Reid, seeking his advice, on a presidential run. Even late entrant, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, visited Reid in his home. He didn't tell Reid he was going to launch a presidential bid, but the former senator said he could tell that Bloomberg was interested in something.

Reid also downplayed a new story in The Atlantic that reported he had two meetings with Sanders in 2011 to talk him out of launching a primary bid against President Barack Obama.

"I talked to Bernie and I talked to every senator to make sure that they were totally supportive of Obama. And they were," Reid said. "He would've been stupid to do that and he's not stupid."

Reid didn't say a negative word about any of the Democrats still in the race, but he said he didn't agree with some policy platforms that Sanders has endorsed, including Medicare for All.

"First of all, I don't like it," he said of Sanders' central campaign platform. "It's not realistic. I don't think it would pass."

Reid said that Democrats should "re-establish Obamacare" and add a public option, which he says, would make people "very happy with their insurance."

Reid's opposition to Medicare for All is shared in some influential corners of the state's electorate. The powerful Culinary Union in Nevada has been vocal about their opposition to Medicare for All, potentially putting a dent into Sanders' support in the Silver State, although the union has not formally endorsed a candidate in the race.

Warren has also supported a Medicare for All plan but she has softened her stance by coming out with a transition plan that would more gradually move the country to a government-run system.

And he warned Democrats for moving too far to the left on immigration. He said they should be "very careful" about decriminalizing crossing the border. "We're a country of laws," he said.

When asked why Warren has struggled in the first two states and wether the country was ready to elect a woman as president, Reid noted that Nevada was the first state to have a majority women legislature and that both U.S. Senators are women, as are a majority of judges on the state Supreme Court.

"All I know is Nevada has proven the strength of women," he said. "People were saying we need to empower women. Women empowered us in Nevada."

And, he added, Warren's candidacy shouldn't be ignored. "Don't count Elizabeth out of the race."

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Despite being criticized heavily by Democratic opponents for pledging to spend a billion or more dollars in the race, Reid defending Bloomberg, saying he's spending "within the confines of the law."

"I think that he was a good mayor, and I'm not going to be criticizing him because he's got a lot of money," Reid said of Bloomberg.

Reid also said that early nominating contests of Iowa, which he called a "debacle" and New Hampshire aren't representative of the country and shouldn't be given the credence it is given and that is part of the reason that former Vice President Joe Biden didn't do well.

After the first two contests, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg holds a narrow lead in delegates while Sanders has opened up a double-digit lead in some recent polls.

"Forty-eight states should not have to follow the lead of Iowa and New Hampshire, they have no diversity," Reid said. "They're not representative of the rest of the country."

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Reid said what happens in Nevada will be more representative of the will of Democrats in the country. Nevada is the first majority minority state to vote, with a Latino population of 30 percent, a ten percent African American population and ten percent Asian American population.

Reid said he would have more to say about the Democratic primary process on February 22, the day after Nevada wraps up its caucuses.

Regardless of the results here Saturday, Reid insists that any candidate in the Democratic race will be "better than that guy" President Donald Trump.

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