Sunday, Jan. 18, 2009 | 2 a.m.
On election night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was watching returns in his hotel room when the TV flashed to a famous country singer performing at a Republican campaign party.
Reid called the entertainer names and scoffed at the television.
You better be careful, Senator, a staffer warned, he might come after you.
Let him! Reid bellowed.
It was the kind of characteristic brashness that is driving the four-term senator’s reelection campaign — and giving his opponents the ammunition they will use against him.
Collecting Reid-isms will be a pivotal strategy for Republicans trying to oust him in 2010. Many politicians learn to temper themselves during their time in office, carefully calibrating the story line of a career. Reid seems to have done the opposite.
The unfiltered Reid brings a shooting style not often seen in Washington, one that befuddles those who prefer smoother edges. This is a man who once left a White House meeting with President George W. Bush without shaking hands.
Now he is trash talking before the big fight.
The Republican Senate campaign committee last week sent letters to donors highlighting Reid’s actions on the day Roland Burris was being sworn in as Illinois’ newest senator. Reid tried unsuccessfully to block Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s appointment, hoping to distance Washington from the accusations that the governor had tried to sell the Senate seat once held by President-elect Barack Obama.
Yet Reid’s interference led to a series of events that ended up embarrassing Democrats when the 71-year-old African-American was left outside in the rain. Reid was forced to relent.
After Burris was sworn in last week on the Senate floor, Reid hugged the new senator, then put one hand on each of the man’s shoulders as he often does when he has something important to say. After conferring in private, they both smiled.
“We welcome you as a colleague and a friend,” Reid said a short while later.
Democrats say the delay in seating Burris helped clear any questions around his appointment — he was never accused of any wrongdoing.
But within the hour, the National Republican Senatorial Committee told donors, “With this flip-flop, Reid has forced upon the people of Illinois a Senator with a controversial and questionable background.”
Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the Cook Political Report in Washington, said Republicans would be foolish not to go after Reid. All the fundamentals are in order for a tough race — Reid’s low approval ratings at 38 percent and his lightning rod status as a partisan leader. Reid is the most vulnerable Democratic senator up for reelection in 2010, she said.
But she and many others have noted one ingredient remains missing: a viable opponent. “I go back to: Who’s running?” Duffy said.
The Nevada state Republican Party boss, Sue Lowden, was in Washington last week meeting with Republican officials about Reid.
A newly formed political action committee affiliated with the conservative group American Future Fund recently set up a Web site, “Watchin’ Reid,” that hopes to build a nationwide movement against him. In Las Vegas, the editorial pages of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a libertarian newspaper, regularly broadside Reid.
The senator, meanwhile, has been steadily building a reelection team that will operate in the state, which went Democratic this year and helped elect Obama.
Reid hired Brandon Hall, a political strategist with Western roots, as his campaign manager. Hall has run campaigns across the West and has ties to Nevada — his mother and grandparents once lived in Fernley.
Reid recently told a Hill newspaper he welcomes the reelection fight — the more money Republicans spend on him, he said, the less they have to target his colleagues.
In his autobiography, the senator writes that others would understand his style better if they knew where he comes from — the hardscrabble desert mining community of Searchlight.
“Harry Reid gives it to you straight,” Reid spokesman Jon Summers said. “He’s prepared to fight and win.”