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Some Democratic strategists who followed Reid and his re-election effort agreed that the Majority Leader is once again free to be a national partisan leader. Reid spent the previous several months, particularly since financial regulatory reform was enacted in July, moving cautiously, couching each decision that he made as in the best interest of Nevada, those strategists said.
Nevada is a swing state, and some Democrats think Reid had no choice but to embrace a more pragmatic side after six years of being a national party leader, first as Minority Leader and then as Majority Leader.
Even Reid acknowledged that his weak standing with the electorate — his favorability with voters dropped dramatically since becoming the Senate Democratic leader, according to polls — was at least partly because of the role that he must play as a party figurehead.
“He needed to tame his partisanship as much as he could leading up to the election,” said one Democratic strategist with experience in Nevada politics. “But now he’s back to work. Two years is an eternity in politics, and he’s looking at six years before his next re-election.”
“He’ll always put Nevada first,” added Susan McCue, Reid’s former chief of staff who is now a Democratic operative. “But he isn’t campaigning around the clock so he has more time to spend on all levels of strategic and tactical policy advancement.”
Other Democrats do not disagree that Reid has become more visible since returning to Washington, D.C., for the lame-duck session, but they contend that it may be more because of circumstance than design.
The weekly Democratic leadership pen-and-pads featuring Reid and his team were abandoned several months before the elections. One senior Democratic Senate aide said that wasn’t an effort to put a lid on Reid — who has been known to spark a fury with his controversial comments — but because those news conferences weren’t achieving their goal of driving the message and helping put the caucus on offense.
A second senior Democratic aide said Reid’s increased media presence since Nov. 2 is a function of necessity. Senate Democrats have looked to Reid, as their leader, to speak for them and answer questions as to how they plan to proceed, both legislatively and politically.
But in whatever manner Reid’s re-emergence is viewed, Democrats agree he is liberated from having to focus first on campaigning and is able to spend more time navigating internal caucus politics and leading the national policy debate.
“I think he had a really tough election, and I’m delighted he won,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.