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Senate Leaders’ Rapport In Tatters

Daschle and Reid had a close professional and personal relationship, and the decision by Republicans to dump millions into now-Sen. John Thune’s successful race against him — and to have then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) travel to South Dakota to campaign for Thune — angered Reid and other Democrats.

Although as Schumer noted in the pen-and-pad session Democrats didn’t go after McConnell nearly as aggressively as the GOP did against Daschle, national Democrats were much more involved in McConnell’s race than in previous leaders’ elections.

In addition to the DSCC’s spending, Republicans point to a number of other instances, including comments by a Reid aide in a local news story late in the campaign that they say was a clear intrusion by the Democratic leader into the race.

Mollineau, however, denied Reid or his office was attempting to insert itself into the race and said it was simply an effort to respond to criticisms of Reid that had been leveled by McConnell in the closing days of the campaign.

“Our office has always responded when necessary to correct the record. That will continue over the next two years,” he said.

But Republicans also point to a teleconference Reid reportedly conducted in April with McConnell’s opponent, Bruce Lunsford (D). In the call with donors, Reid denounced Republican “obstructionists” and urged them to help fund Lunsford’s campaign.

These and other real or perceived slights have led many Republicans to believe Reid was deeply involved in the campaign against McConnell. Democrats made “no effort to hide who was helping pull the strings,” one Republican said, adding that the 2008 campaign “provided clarity on the ground rules for Nevada in 2010.”

Indeed, the political landscape in Nevada could face some major changes. For instance, while Reid and outgoing National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) have long had a non-aggression pact, Ensign warned Wednesday that Reid is vulnerable this cycle and Republicans should go on the attack.

Ensign also said that given the political dynamics of the state, Reid can expect a vigorous challenge.

The Nevada Republican recalled that when he ran against Reid in 1998, the Democrat’s disapproval rating never went higher than 38 percent. Today, he said, public polling shows Reid with significantly higher negative numbers. “If I was looking at that race, I would say that’s an attractive race to run,” he noted. But Ensign also acknowledged that much work needs to be done rebuilding the state GOP. “We have a lot of work to do in my state, and in all the Mountain states.”

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who is taking over the NRSC for the 2010 campaign, said that while it is “premature to say” Reid will be the top target of the cycle, he committed to aggressively finding a quality candidate to run against Reid and to boost the GOP’s fundraising efforts.

“We’re going to aggressively recruit and support candidates in every state where we think we have a chance,” Cornyn said.

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