Harry Reid's caucus is running from him on the campaign trail, but that doesn't mean a revolt is in the works — yet.
The majority leader has twisted the Senate into a pretzel all year to protect his vulnerable members, but the Nevada Democrat is now facing skepticism on the campaign trail from some of those same Democrats, as well as from some would-be newcomers. And there's at least one scenario that could force his hand.
Still, there's that old saying: You can't beat somebody with nobody, and so far, none of the senators who might have the chops to take on Reid have made any noises about doing so.
That includes No. 3 Senate Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York, who has long been seen as having the inside track to replace Reid atop the Democratic power structure.
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Schumer has shown immense patience, and Reid has given him tons of power in the meantime. But Schumer dismissed the notion Reid could get the boot.
"Is Harry Reid bigger than the majority?" NBC's "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd asked Schumer on Sunday, noting that nearly a dozen Democrats have suggested they'd like a different majority leader.
"Harry Reid will run for majority leader and he will win with an overwhelming, probably very close to a majority vote," the New York Democrat said.
Reid "is not concerned at all," his spokesman Adam Jentleson told CQ Roll Call Monday.
Still there are unknowns.
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Independent Greg Orman in Kansas could be the most intriguing wild card — particularly if the Senate is otherwise 50-49 Republican without his vote. The businessman is running against Republican Sen. Pat Roberts on a message of disgust for Washington, D.C., and its partisanship. He has said he won't vote for Reid or Republican Mitch McConnell for leader.
What would happen if a majority-maker — or breaker — such as Orman demands a new leader as the price of choosing to caucus with Democrats? That would be analogous to the long-shot scenarios some House conservatives have pitched as ways to deny Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, another term with the gavel.
A Democratic aide predicted any senator trying to force a change in leadership in return for caucusing with Democrats would likely become "a pariah."
“People would not take kindly to that kind of tactic,” the aide told CQ Roll Call. “If you are doing that then you are essentially telling the caucus, ‘You can’t have the leader you want because I say so.’ ... I think you would be shooting yourself in the foot in terms of your own prospects to make what is essentially a symbolic point."
Besides, the aide added, "It’s very deeply against the grain of what makes a caucus function.” Such a power-grab “would put a new leader in that scenario under a huge cloud — they basically would be assuming the leadership under a hostage situation — and I don’t think anybody would really want to become leader that way.”
A former Democratic leadership aide said there's a "less than zero" chance of Schumer taking on Reid, given the loyalty he has on his team. The same goes for Schumer's housemate, No. 2 Democrat Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, or Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
Instead, expect a steady diet of blaming the White House, and more minor adjustments to assuage the malcontents.
"Any fallout that occurs would mostly fall at the feet of the administration and to the extent there are calls for change among Senate Democrats, I think Sen. Reid has shown himself perfectly willing to entertain different approaches and tactics to respond to his members while still remaining leader," the former aide said.
Reid told CQ Roll Call in an interview last year that he'd like to stick around until 2022, indicating that other Democrats would only get their chance to lead the caucus if he dropped dead.
But the grumbling in the ranks has grown louder as Election Day nears.
At a debate Monday evening, Mary L. Landrieu conceded she has said previously she would back Reid. But she's changed her tune.
"I said a couple of months ago that I would, but I'm going to make my decision based on what is before me and who is running," the Louisiana Democrat said. "I think Harry Reid gets beat up more than he deserves, and I'm not saying yes and I'm not saying no. I'm not saying no. I'm going to see what the leadership is, what the lineup is, and then make my decision."
In a New Hampshire debate last week, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sounded a similar note. She said there should be a contest to see who'll the next Democratic leader, and refused to endorse Reid.
“I'm not sure who our choice will be,” Shaheen said. Pressed by the moderator to say whether she believed Democrats should have a choice, she said, “I do.”
“I’m not going to speculate on who, but I think, I think it's important for us to have a contest in these positions because we need to think about how we're doing business in the Senate,” said Shaheen, who is being challenged by former Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown.
And Democrat Rick Weiland, who is challenging Republican Mike Rounds for the South Dakota Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., vowed to vote against Reid.
“Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have given us the most dysfunctional government in a generation and they need to step aside,” Weiland said during a debate last week. His campaign made sure the statement reached reporters. "They have both failed the American people and it’s time for new leadership.”
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Another Democratic senator who hasn't endorsed Reid is Virginia's Mark Warner, who said recently in a debate that both parties might be better off with new leadership.
Republicans, who need to win a net of six seats to reclaim control, have used the "Fire Reid" slogan this year on the campaign trail. It's a similar tactic to the "Fire Pelosi" rhetoric against then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California that helped the GOP win back the House in 2010.
The Democratic aide dismissed the idea that Reid was an anchor for the party.
“People in races who are out there every day on the ground, they are not hearing … complaints about Harry Reid denying amendments from voters. That is all inside the Republican echo chamber," said the aide, who noted the majority leader took the actions he's taken because members asked to be protected from politically difficult votes.
“They are not going to turn around and blame him for doing exactly what they’ve asked him to do for the last few years," the aide said, adding that Reid "is a big boy" who doesn’t take the criticism personally and has told members to do what they need to in order to win.
There's also at least theoretically the potential for Reid to step aside if Democrats lose in a blowout — although there's the counter argument that in that scenario you'd want an experienced tactician like Reid to engage in the daily battles with a newly ascendant McConnell.
Pelosi notably rebuffed a revolt after the 2010 shellacking cost her the gavel, and has shown no signs of budging since.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.
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