Archive for Friday, November 5, 2004

New Senate Democratic leader steady, not flashy

November 5, 2004


— Sen. Harry Reid regulated gambling in Nevada when organized crime ran some casinos, and he lived to tell about it. His steely resolve in a sometimes dangerous job could come in handy as the new Democratic leader in a more conservative Senate.

The soft-spoken Reid will, in essence, be the Democratic party's most powerful elected official, thrust into a position of prominence by the defeats of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. John Kerry.

Until now, Reid was Daschle's deputy, best known by C-Span audiences as the constant Democratic presence on the Senate floor. He focused on the chamber's sometimes arcane procedure -- the kind of work that wins respect from colleagues but is virtually invisible to the public.

He soon will preside over a group of Senate Democrats generally regarded as liberal. And the caucus will be smaller by four because of Democratic defeats Tuesday.

Republicans might find it hard to pigeonhole Reid as a liberal because his anti-abortion, anti-gun-control views are contrary to Democratic dogma. He was among the minority of Democrats who voted for a ban on certain late-term abortions, and he opposed extending the ban on assault weapons, winning the endorsement of the National Rifle Assn.

Yet no Democrat is challenging him for leader.

"I think Harry Reid has done the work, put in the time," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a strong supporter of both abortion rights and gun control. "He is a very good floor leader, very smart. I like the fact that he is a Westerner, frankly, because I am convinced we have to build the West here. So I think he is the logical choice at this time."

Reid lacks a commanding television presence, but he has been the Democrats' day-to-day leader in the Senate for six years. He received a lot of the credit when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords left the Republican party in 2001, handing control of the Senate to the Democrats.

"He's got a quiet way of sneaking up on you," said Sig Rogich, a longtime friend and Republican strategist from Nevada. "He's not flashy, but he's very steady. He does his homework."

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