GOP Pushes to Divide Democrats Over Reid’s Comments

Posted January 9, 2010 at 4:54pm

The GOP is hoping to put Democratic Congressional candidates across the country on the hot seat for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) use of racially charged language.Republicans are expected to begin demanding Democratic Senate candidates return campaign contributions from Reid and denounce his comments that President Barack Obama is a “light skinned— black man who speaks without a “Negro dialect.—According to Republican strategists, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and GOP candidates are expected to try to either force Democratic candidates to distance themselves from Reid or run the risk of being tied to his comments.“Senate Democrats have a choice — to stay silent and stand with Harry Reid, or to speak out and rightly condemn these remarks. We intend to hold them accountable. We also certainly hope that [Congressional Black Caucus] members and national civil rights groups will also speak out on Reid’s comments with the same fervor that they criticized [former Majority Leader] Trent Lott [R-Miss.] in 2002,— one GOP strategist said.Lott was forced out of his leadership post in December 2002 after he said during a birthday party for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) that the country would be better off if Thurmond had been elected president. Thurmond led the filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.Reid, whose comments to author Mark Halperin appear in Halperin’s new book on the 2008 presidential campaign, has given at least $35,000 in campaign contributions to Democratic candidates.According to OpenSecrets.org, those campaign contributions during this election cycle include $5,000 each to Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y) and Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Missouri Senate candidate Robin Carnahan and $10,000 each to Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Rep. Paul Hodes (N.H.), who is running for Senate.Since news of his comments broke Saturday morning, Reid has been moving quickly to tamp down the scandal: He has already apologized to Obama and is making calls to a list of black leaders, including members of the CBC. Reid also released a statement in which he apologized to the public.“I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments,— he said in the statement.But even as Republicans look to capitalize on the scandal, top Democrats are coming to Reid’s defense. Obama on Saturday afternoon released a statement accepting his apology, while House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Reid should be judged on his actions and not these comments.“Senator Reid should be judged by his record, which includes his efforts to promote diversity in the Senate, respond to issues of importance to the African-American community and advance President Obama’s agenda,— Clyburn said.“I am one of ‘those who wish to one day live in a color-blind nation,’ but the fact is that none of us do today. Senator Reid’s apology for his private assessment of President Obama’s candidacy should be accepted,— he added.