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Unhappy Caucus Forces Reid to Rework Strategy

Those Facing Voters in ’12 Pushing More Reforms

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (second from right) walks through the Capitol on Tuesday with Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray and Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer after the Democratic leadership slate was re-elected.

Senate Democrats re-elected Majority Leader Harry Reid to another two-year term Tuesday, but the Nevada Democrat still faces an unhappy caucus determined to force changes in the way the chamber operates as 23 of them prepare to face voters in 2012.

In the past two weeks, Reid has been trying to show he’s learned the lessons of a midterm rout that cost Democrats control of the House and six seats in the Senate.

But Democrats spent the morning and afternoon Tuesday not just electing Reid and their slate of leaders for another term, but also “airing grievances,” as one Senate Democratic source put it.

Those grievances primarily came from the very rabble-rousers who demanded that Reid needed to better coordinate political, policy and message strategy in the next Congress — Members who were elected in 2006 and 2008.

“There are a lot of boils to be lanced,” one Senate Democratic aide said. “The truth is that anytime there’s a diminution in the ranks ... especially with 23 [Democrats] up, you’re going to have people who are going to say, ‘What happened last time can’t happen to me.’”

The key, the aide said, is including Members in more of his policy and political decisions.

“Not being heard in the process, that’s what is driving them nuts,” the aide said.

Reid has already announced he is making major changes designed to better coordinate political messaging with policy, but junior Members of the Senate Democratic Conference continued to tell him Tuesday that won’t be enough to satisfy their concerns about the direction of his leadership in the 112th Congress.

“We have 23 Members of our caucus that have been elected since 2006. That’s a huge number, and that bulge is pushing a little bit on some reform,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who faces her first re-election in 2012. “And in fairness, the more senior Members have been great about some of the things we’ve asked be put on the table, and I think we’re going to see some changes.”

Of course, a linchpin of Reid’s ability to ensure the political well-being of the 43 percent of the caucus up for re-election is finding someone to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The task has confounded Reid for weeks as Member after Member has declined to take on the weighty job. A new chairman was supposed to have been named Tuesday, but the announcement was postponed.

Meanwhile, Reid’s defenders note that he was re-elected as leader precisely because he has been willing to facilitate changes to caucus operations.

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