RNC Turns Up Heat on Reid

Posted February 4, 2005 at 6:20pm

The Republican National Committee is set to begin a prolonged attack against newly installed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) aimed at weakening his support in his home state as well as on the national level.

Drawing on a blueprint used successfully against former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), the RNC will send a 13-page research document today to roughly 1 million people — a group that includes journalists, donors and grass-roots activists — detailing Reid’s alleged obstructionism among other topics.

“This is the initial salvo in the upcoming discussion that we are going to be having with Sen. Reid,” said RNC Communications Director Brian Jones.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman has already done a series of radio interviews in Nevada criticizing Reid. Other events, like a gathering of medical professionals in the Silver State to protest Reid’s stance on medical malpractice reform, are in the works.

“This is a national and local communications strategy that will look to strip the bark off the Senate Minority Leader,” Jones added.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley dismissed the RNC offensive as “the same old, same old.”

Pointing out that Reid voted for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and has struck an agreement to let legislation limiting class-action lawsuits advance to the Senate floor, Manley said that the Nevada Senator will not be easily demonized.

“He has repeatedly stated his willingness to work with Republicans to pass a common- sense agenda, and so far that has fallen on deaf ears,” Manley added.

Reid himself makes no apologies for opposing Bush and Congressional Republicans on Social Security, judges and the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be attorney general.

“We have a Constitution and this is not a parliamentary form of government we have, certainly not any type of a despotic government,” Reid said in a brief interview last week. “The Constitution was set up by the Founding Fathers to make sure there are checks and balances, and we are that. I think the country is well served by having us slow what the president is trying to do.”

Rhetoric aside, the RNC’s new campaign is simply the latest sign that the partisan warfare that defined the 108th Congress will continue with the change of leadership among Senate Democrats.

“I don’t see much difference from July of last year,” said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). “I don’t think the American voters have yet communicated with the Democratic leadership. They tried to in November and replaced a few of them. Maybe they will work at it again.”

Republicans are clearly emboldened by Daschle’s defeat at the hands of former Rep. John Thune (R) last November.

Daschle endured a campaign to paint him as an obstructionist — a politician who said one thing in conservative South Dakota and something entirely different as the leader of his party in Washington.

Many of the attacks the RNC plans to use against Reid directly parallel those put in place against Daschle.

“This is the Daschle-ization of Reid,” said one Republican strategist. “We are going to chip away day by day.”

Most significantly, the RNC document, which was prepared by Research Director Matt Rhoades, makes reference to Reid as the “Chief Democratic obstructionist” before listing a series of votes allegedly blocking President Bush’s judicial nominees, the creation of the Homeland Security Department and, of course, the issue du jour — Social Security reform.

It also attacks Reid’s family connections in the lobbying world, pointing out that his son and a son-in-law are Washington lobbyists and that Reid was pressed into instituting a ban against family members lobbying his office after a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times.

Similarly, Daschle came under criticism by Republicans because his wife, Linda, was a registered Washington lobbyist. One group — the conservative Club for Growth — even ran an ad attacking his wife’s profession.

But for every similarity, there is a difference. Perhaps foremost, the challenge to Reid won’t directly threaten the Democrat’s seat for six years, until 2010.

The GOP began hammering away at Daschle in a serious way in 2002, a little over two years before he was up for re-election. Reid, by contrast, just won another six-year term last November, and did so by appearing so unbeatable that Republican candidate after Republican candidate backed away from a race against him in the year and a half before the race was held. This was all the more remarkable given that Reid won his race in 1998 by just 428 votes.

Another difference is that Daschle hailed from a state that gave Bush a 22-percent margin in 2004. Reid, by contrast, comes from a tossup state on the presidential level: Bush carried it just 50 percent to 48 percent in November.

Ideologically, Reid is also more conservative than Daschle, especially on abortion, which became a major focus of Republican attacks during the South Dakota Senator’s final campaign.

On Capitol Hill, Reid is also establishing a leadership style that is markedly different than Daschle’s. Reid has empowered senior Democrats such as Montana Sen. Max Baucus to play a more active role in devising legislative strategy. Baucus, the ranking Member on the Finance Committee, is tasked with leading the charge against Bush’s Social Security proposal. When Daschle was Minority Leader, most of the Democratic legislative strategy was devised in his office.

“The ranking members are being given leeway to make policy decisions for the Caucus,” said a Democratic chief of staff, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “His team approach has made a bunch of Senators happy.”

In the first 30 days as Democratic leader, Reid has also been careful when he asks the Caucus to stay unified on an issue and where he directs his own criticism.

Reid successfully convinced all but one member of the Democratic Caucus last week to sign a letter opposing Bush’s plan to privatize a portion of Social Security. But the Nevadan did not ask his Democratic colleagues to stand together against Gonzales to be attorney general, because he realized the Senators should be able to vote their conscience on the nomination, sources said. Six Democrats voted for Gonzales, while Reid voted against him.

“I think he has done his level best to make sure that those who might be clear to the left or might be a little less to the left and more to the right are represented,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who voted for Gonzales but chose not to sign the Social Security letter. “It is nice to see a new leader take his job very, very honestly and seriously to try to represent as many people as he can.”

Serving the needs of both liberal and moderate Democrats can be a daunting task, especially at a time when the party is embroiled in a very public fight over its direction. Reid acknowledges there has been a “learning curve” during first month on the job, but he said his colleagues have made it easy by agreeing to stand united on what is likely to be the biggest domestic fight of the year: reforming Social Security.

One of the reasons why Reid has been able to keep his Caucus unified is that he has not tried to control their actions or censor their comments even when it could hurt his efforts to build a bridge back to red-state America in time for the 2006 midterm elections.

While Reid has criticized Bush for his handling of the Iraq war, the Nevadan’s remarks have not been as caustic as those of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). And when Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wanted to object to the electoral ballot count requiring the Senate to vote on it, Reid supported her right to do so, even as he joined 73 of his colleagues to vote against her objection.

“It is a big job to put together the kind of organization he wants to take in this Congress,” said Senate Democratic Policy Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.). “We know we have 45 votes and are in for some big fights, so he has been carefully constructing the right kind of organization that fits his style.”

Despite the praise Reid has received so far from his own Democratic colleagues, Republicans contend that the liberal faction of his Caucus is calling the shots.

“It just goes to show you the leader doesn’t run the Caucus,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) said. “Obviously, the left runs the Caucus and the leader is simply the mouthpiece.”