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Keen to maintain his open seats and capitalize on a deflated and bruised Republican Party, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has begun laying the groundwork for a legislative and message strategy aimed at maximizing Democrats’ electoral gains in the closely divided chamber.
According to Democrats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the preliminary nature of the efforts, Reid’s decision to bring former Chief of Staff Susan McCue formally back into his political operation is part of a broader effort to put in place a comprehensive legislative and political strategy geared toward the 2008 Senate election cycle.
Senate Democrats have struggled at times in their first 10 months to take charge of a narrowly divided chamber — one that even Reid didn’t anticipate controlling heading into the momentous 2006 elections. Still, Democrats say they are aware of the challenges and welcome any attempt by the leadership to set a strategy to help them convince the electorate to grow their 51-seat majority.
“We have to have it,” said Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who himself is up for reelection in 2008. “We’ll be held accountable and we should be. We’ve struggled with 51 votes in a world of 60 and we still have a lot to show for it.”
With that in mind, Senate Democrats said it is a smart play to craft a message that lays out the party’s priorities heading into the next election, especially if Senators hope to widen their margins and improve their chances of passing legislation. Part of the planning, they said, should include reminding the public what the party has delivered this Congress and that, despite the setbacks, Senate Democrats have had victories.
“We have a story to tell,” Durbin said.
Clearly, Reid isn’t resting on his laurels, even though Democrats are likely to pick up at least a handful of GOP-held seats next year. Already, Reid has assembled a team of loyal insiders to plot a blueprint, including his former top aide McCue, who left less than a year ago to head the ONE Campaign, the anti-poverty and AIDS organization.
Although McCue is in part being brought in to help with 2008 strategy, sources stressed that Reid also sees her presence as a way to complement the day-to-day legislative and political apparatuses he has set up since her departure last year.
McCue this week began what is to be a series of meetings with top Reid aides to develop Senate Democrats’ election plan. The effort, according to Democrats familiar with the issue, likely will be distinct from those of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Reid’s strategy likely will include identifying key legislative proposals Democrats can use to highlight their policy positions while forcing Republicans to take increasingly difficult votes. While no specific legislative items have been identified, the strategy could be similar to one being used by Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the children’s health insurance bill.
On the political front, Reid’s operation will put together a broad message framework through which to work, and will begin outreach to key outside groups and Democratic power players over the next several months.