Democrats run from Reid ahead of midterms

Can­di­dates wary of back­ing Se­nate Majority Leader

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

Se­nate Majority Leader Harry Reid has be­come a ma­jor fo­cus of the 2014 cam­paign, with many of his em­bat­tled fel­low Democrats de­clin­ing to say whether they’d back him for their party cau­cus leader.

While Pres­i­dent Obama may have poi­soned the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment for those Democrats, it is Mr. Reid who shaped the records they are de­fend­ing —keep­ing them from hav­ing to take tough votes, but at the same time en­sur­ing they didn’t have a chance to show much in­de­pen­dence from the na­tional party.

That’s left both in­cum­bents and po­ten­tial new­com­ers striv­ing to dis­tance them­selves from the Ne­vada Demo­crat, who has run his party cau­cus for 10 years and has been majority leader for eight.

“I know how to say ‘No’ to Se­na­tor Reid,” Michelle Nunn said ear­lier this week at a de­bate in Ge­or­gia, where she is the Democrats’ nom­i­nee in a race for an open Se­nate seat.

In­cum­bent Demo­cratic Sens. Mary L. Lan­drieu in Louisiana, Mark R. Warner in Vir­ginia, Mark Begich in Alaska, Jeanne Shaheen in New Hamp­shire and Mark Pryor in Arkansas have also seemed to dis­tance them­selves from Mr. Reid, as has Ali­son Lun­der­gan Grimes, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee in Ken­tucky.

Sev­eral have re­fused to say whether they would support Mr. Reid as their leader in the new Congress that be­gins next year, seem­ing to sug­gest that they were get­ting fed up with the sti­fling hold Mr. Reid has kept on the cham­ber.

“I think it’s im­por­tant for us to have a contest in th­ese po­si­tions, be­cause we need to think about how we’re do­ing business in the Se­nate,” Ms. Shaheen said in a de­bate ear­lier this month.

Ms. Lan­drieu, in a de­bate in New Or­leans Mon­day night, tepidly de­fended her party’s cau­cus leader, say­ing Mr. Reid “gets beat up more than he de­serves,” but added, “I am go­ing to wait to see what the lead­er­ship looks like. I’m not say­ing yes. I’m not say­ing no” to sup­port­ing Mr. Reid as leader.

Jim Manley, se­nior di­rec­tor at Quinn Gille­spie & As­so­ciates and a for­mer top staffer for Mr. Reid, said all con­gres­sional lead­ers face this sort of scru­tiny at elec­tion time, though there may be a few more se­na­tors than in the past who are try­ing to put dis­tance be­tween Mr. Reid and them­selves.

“All of th­ese guys have to do what they have to do,” Mr. Manley said. “Se­na­tor Reid un­der­stands that.”

In­deed, Ms. Nunn’s GOP op­po­nent in Ge­or­gia, David Per­due, ear­lier this year re­fused to back Sen. Mitch McCon­nell, the Repub­li­cans’ leader, en route to vic­tory in a heated party pri­mary.

Few chances to dis­sent

But the slew of can­di­dates feel­ing pres­sure to dis­tance them­selves from Mr. Reid, in­clud­ing many who cur­rently serve with him, sug­gests grow­ing dis­com­fort with how he’s run the cham­ber.

Mr. Reid reg­u­larly uses his pow­ers to con­trol which amend­ments get of­fered on the floor, block­ing out GOP pro­pos­als that would force tough votes that could em­bar­rass Mr. Obama. But that also means vul­ner­a­ble Democrats get few chances to break with the pres­i­dent, which is not play­ing well back home.

Roll Call, a pa­per that cov­ers Capi­tol Hill, re­ported this week that “all of the most vul­ner­a­ble Democrats voted with Pres­i­dent Obama at least 96 per­cent of the time on the 120 votes on which Obama has urged a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote.”

Ms. Shaheen voted Mr. Obama’s way 98 per­cent of the time, as did Mr. Begich. Mr. Pryor scored 97 per­cent support, and Ms. Lan­drieu dis­sented the most, still notch­ing a 96 per­cent support rate, ac­cord­ing to Roll Call.

GOP strate­gist Michael McKenna said that, given those scores, it’s no sur­prise some of those se­na­tors are re­luc­tant to embrace Mr. Reid to lead them next year.

“Se­na­tor Reid has been treat­ing them as props in his own per­sonal po­lit­i­cal Kabuki, and over time peo­ple are go­ing to re­sent that — es­pe­cially ac­com­plished peo­ple who are re­ally smart and know what’s go­ing on,” Mr. McKenna said.

Mr. Reid took pains to avoid hold­ing a vote this year on an amend­ment from Sen. David Vit­ter, Louisiana Repub­li­can, that would have re­quired mem­bers of Congress and their em­ploy­ees to forgo their tax­payer­funded sub­sidy to buy health in­surance. Mr. Vit­ter ar­gues it would put them on even foot­ing with those who are buy­ing Oba­macare plans on the ex­changes.

Other amend­ments on boost­ing en­ergy pro­duc­tion or rolling back Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion en­vi­ron­men­tal rules also never got votes in the Se­nate, de­spite pres­sure from some Democrats who had hoped they would of­fer a chance to show in­de­pen­dence and cast votes for re­gional pri­or­i­ties.

“If you’re Mary Lan­drieu, if you’re Mark

“If you’re Mary Lan­drieu, if you’re Mark Warner, if you’re Mark Pryor, if you’re any of th­ese guys, you re­ally, re­ally wanted to have an op­por­tu­nity to get on the record op­pos­ing cer­tain things and fa­vor­ing other things. And Harry Reid, the way he’s run the shop, has pre­vented you from hav­ing a chance to do that. You are stuck with what­ever votes [you] had com­ing in, and you never had a chance to get healthy.”

— Repub­li­can strate­gist Michael McKenna

Warner, if you’re Mark Pryor, if you’re any of th­ese guys, you re­ally, re­ally wanted to have an op­por­tu­nity to get on the record op­pos­ing cer­tain things and fa­vor­ing other things,” Mr. McKenna said. “And Harry Reid, the way he’s run the shop, has pre­vented you from hav­ing a chance to do that. You are stuck with what­ever votes [you] had com­ing in, and you never had a chance to get healthy.”

Mr. Manley, though, said Democrats agreed to­gether that it was bet­ter to avoid GOP-led show votes, even if it meant fewer chances to of­fer their own pro­pos­als or to vote on other leg­is­la­tion.

“This is a strat­egy worked out with the cau­cus de­signed to do what­ever [Mr. Reid] can to pro­tect them, es­pe­cially those up for elec­tion,” Mr. Manley said. “The fact of the mat­ter is many of th­ese amend­ments Repub­li­cans wanted to of­fer were sim­ply de­signed to score po­lit­i­cal points.”

Mr. Manley said he has no doubt Mr. Reid will be re-elected as the Democrats’ leader for the next Congress.

The at­ten­tion may be hurt­ing Mr. Reid. The lat­est Gallup polling ear­lier this month found him with a 21 per­cent fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ing, down 6 per­cent­age points from ear­lier this year.

With his pop­u­lar­ity drop­ping, Repub­li­cans have made Mr. Reid an is­sue in many of the Se­nate races, ar­gu­ing he is the main ob­sta­cle to bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion.

“Harry Reid has been ob­struct­ing the Se­nate for years, and each of th­ese Democrats has helped him do it, vot­ing with Harry Reid and Barack Obama ev­ery step of the way,” said Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee spokes­woman Kirsten Kukowski. “There are piles of bills wait­ing for at­ten­tion in Reid’s ob­struc­tion­ist Se­nate that could help Americans with jobs and help move our econ­omy and health care sys­tem for­ward.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

As with Pres­i­dent Obama, Demo­cratic can­di­dates are keep­ing Se­nate Majority Leader Harry Reid at arm’s length head­ing into Elec­tion Day.

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