Will Reid get top job in Senate?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 5 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

Minority leader Harry Reid believes that Democrats have a 50-50 chance to claim a majority in the U.S. Senate in Tuesday's elections. A Democratic triumph would elevate the Nevadan to majority leader.

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — If the Democrats gain control of the Senate after Tuesday's election, many conservative Utahns may have more in common with the new Senate majority leader than they think.

Sen. Harry Reid, 66, may be a Democrat and he may represent Nevada, but he has Utah connections — he went to Utah State University, all his children went to Brigham Young University, and he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Political pundits and predictors still cannot nail down exactly what will happen on Tuesday. The Democrats need a net gain of six seats to win a Senate majority, and competitive races in Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia have made the idea not so far-fetched.

"We'll pick up some seats; it's just a question of how many," Reid told the Deseret Morning News.

If the Democrats take over, Reid will change from Senate minority leader to Senate majority leader, keeping his status as the highest-ranking senator who is a member of the LDS Church in Congress.

He'll worry about his new role later, because until Election Day he is working to get Democrats elected by fund raising, watching polls and "hustling very hard" to make sure incumbents keep their seats and challengers win their races.

He said becoming leader is "only a byproduct of taking the majority," which needs to happen first, and he said the "goals are the same" if he does become leader. He gives Democrats a "50-50 chance" of taking control.

This time around, Reid would welcome a promotion, because it would mean a strong victory for the Democrats — which was not the case in 2004. During the last election, the Democrats' worst-case scenario came true: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry lost; Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle did not win his re-election bid in South Dakota — and the Republicans retained control of the Senate.

Into the spotlight

Reid, who at the time was the Senate's assistant minority leader, was considered a behind-the-scenes-type senator. While he did speak on the Senate floor, he was best known for his knowledge of Senate rules and legislative strategy. He was the floor manager. He ran for re-election in 2004 on the slogan "Independent Like Nevada."

But after that election he became the face of the Senate Democrats.

At the time he was not preparing for a Daschle loss, but Reid quickly scrambled to gain support among his colleagues for the role, and they voted to make him the minority leader.

Quickly, news articles using boxing metaphors — Reid was an amateur boxer in younger days — and mentioning his small hometown of Searchlight, Nev., popped up everywhere.

Stories also mentioned his membership in the LDS Church and questioned how a Democrat who is against abortion and gay marriage would be viewed as a party leader.

"Democrats did not lose because of abortion and gay marriage," Reid said of the last election. "People pretty well accept who I am. It certainly doesn't hurt me."

Reid is the only Democrat among the five Mormons in the Senate, who include Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Sen. Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho; and Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Reid has "already made his peace with the Democratic caucus on those issues."

Sabato said if Reid moves into the majority leader post, his religion most likely will not become an issue, but as with any lawmaker he has "always found you have to see him in the position before you make a judgment."

Brian Darling, director of U.S. Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., said Reid has "proven to be a fierce advocate for the Democratic party."

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