Harry Reid may not be afraid of the Koch Brothers. But he’s trying to make Democrats very afraid of them.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a bit of a one-note Johnny these days.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

There's a problem in Washington? To hear Reid tell it, it's the fault of Charles and David Koch, the libertarian-minded brothers who have bankrolled a slew of ads slamming vulnerable Senate Democrats via Americans for Prosperity, one of their many quasi-political entities.

Reid was at it again Thursday morning on the Senate floor, vilifying the Koch brothers for, roughly, everything that's wrong with America. Here's part of Reid's speech:

I’m not afraid of the Koch brothers. None of us should not be afraid of the Koch brothers. These two multi-billionaires may spend hundreds of millions of dollars rigging the political process for their own benefit. And they may believe that whoever has the most money gets the most free speech. But I will do whatever it takes to expose their campaign to rig the American political system to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

Reid has demonstrated that commitment repeatedly in recent weeks, using the Senate floor as a staging ground for attacks that he will almost certainly will keep up. What's Reid's end goal? In his ideal world, to make the Koch brothers household names -- and, in the tradition of the villainizing of Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign -- a living, breathing symbol of a view of government and society built on inequality. Again, Reid from earlier Thursday: "It would be a terrible thing to allow the Koch brothers to buy Congress. But it would be catastrophic to allow that Koch Brothers Congress to devastate the American middle class with their richest-take-all policy agenda."

Reid's ideal world as it relates to the Koch brothers isn't going to happen. Or, at the very least, it's not going to happen before the 2014 elections.  Why? Because the average person has no idea who they are.

There's very little polling on the two men but even a Democratic-aligned firm like PPP found that 47 percent of its sample had no idea who the Kochs were. Here's Democratic pollster Geoff Garin in an interview with the Associated Press on that topic: "Garin says Americans, when given this basic information, believe the brothers are trying to elect a government that helps them at the expense of less wealthy people, who would fare better under Democratic policies." The problem of course is the "basic information" caveat; such a statement assumes that voters will being paying close enough attention that information on the Koch brothers -- whether served up by Reid or by any number of Democratic candidates and groups -- will influence their votes. And, if past is prologue, the average voter simply doesn't pay that much attention.

That's not to say that simply because Reid's ideal scenario won't comes to pass that his Koch Brothers strategy is without merit for Democrats.  Because, while the Kochs aren't broadly known in the electorate, they are already relatively well known -- and disliked -- by Democrats. (A majority of Democrats -- 51 percent -- had an unfavorable opinion of the Kochs in that PPP poll.)

Remember that the single biggest problem Democrats face heading into the November midterms is that their base just isn't all that excited about voting. Republican base voters, by contrast, are on fire about the prospect of turning out in the midterms to send a message to President Obama.  That energy disparity is a major problem.  (Check out these numbers from the new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll to further understand that base problem.) It's a major reason why Democrats lost a jump ball special House election in Florida on Tuesday night and why, at every chance he gets, President Obama tries to tell voters -- and donors -- not to be complacent about the fall.

While passion in politics occasionally comes from a positive message/messenger -- that's what happened for Obama the candidate in 2008 -- it occurs much more often as the result of negative influences. We all love to hate a good villain. And that's why Reid is trying so hard to make the Kochs into just. The more he talks about the Kochs, the more -- he hopes -- rank and file Democrats get fired up to turn out to stick it to the Kochs. And the more -- he hopes -- major Democratic donors open up their checkbooks to counter the Kochs spending. (One liberal donor -- Tom Steyer -- is already pledging to spend $50 million of his own money to promote candidate supporting climate change, a fact Republican were all to quick to point out in the wake of Reid's latest anti-Koch brothers speech; "the only person who has ever put Congress up for sale is Senator Reid and his fellow Senate Democrats," said Republican spokesman Jahan Wilcox.)

Reid might not be afraid of the Koch Brothers. But he is hoping he can convince Democrats to be very, very afraid of them.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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