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But when Reid tapped Manley to join his leadership office in late 2004, the Nevada Democrat wanted a far more vocal spokesman. Reid, then the Minority Leader, hired Manley to head the “war room,” a press operation that was supposed to respond, quickly and emphatically, to attacks, particularly those from the George W. Bush White House, and to launch bombs of its own.
Manley’s role was to play the heavy, allowing Reid to keep his hands clean.
His job, though, was sometimes complicated by his boss’s propensity for verbal blunders, which ranged from the politically damaging to the merely cringe-worthy — and they frequently launched Manley into high-spin mode.
In 2005 Reid called Bush a “loser” and a “liar” during a speech at a Nevada high school. And then there were the amusing gaffes. In 2008, for instance, Reid peppered remarks about the newly opened Capitol Visitor Center with a gratuitous aside about how tourists visiting the Capitol smelled badly.
Manley calls his boss “plain-spoken” and acknowledges that his bluntness sometimes presented a challenge. But “I thought speaking your mind was a virtue,” he says.
Reid grew to trust his aide and now calls him a friend whom he’ll miss dearly. “I’ve worked with a lot of press people in my career, but you’re rarely around someone as knowledgeable as Jim Manley,” Reid says. “He has the best contacts with the press I’ve ever seen.”
Members of the Democratic Conference say they appreciated both Manley’s aggressive public stances on their behalf and his easygoing demeanor behind the scenes.
“He’s tough, but he’s got soft edges,” says Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “He’s conscious of relationships — with us, with the press — and that’s served him well.”
Goodbyes Are Bittersweet
The Senate has ruled Manley’s schedule for the better part of two decades. Although he loves the institution, it can be a cruel mistress.
After the Nov. 2 midterm elections, Manley faced a thinner Democratic majority and a reshuffled communications staff, so he decided it was time to leave. He attributes his departure to burnout, curiosity about life beyond the Senate and a desire to make more money.