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July 31, 2015

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Letter from Washington:

Harry Reid is right at home in a tough fight

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associated press file

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid answers questions after speaking at the Air Force Energy Forum last month in Las Vegas.

Sun Coverage

For weeks, polls have shown Harry Reid the 2010 Senate candidate lodged squarely in the dead heat of a pressure cooker.

But according to his colleagues, Harry Reid the Senate majority leader doesn’t appear to be breaking a sweat.

Reid and his opponent, Sharron Angle, were in a statistical tie for all of September, most of which the senator spent in Washington in the final congressional work period before elections.

But being across the country didn’t mean Reid left everything at home. At times, in fact, it seemed the Senate floor had simply become a satellite battleground for Reid’s state challenge.

Republicans accused Reid of using the Senate to make pitches to his base, when he attempted to attach a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military and a launch of the DREAM Act — a program to put young illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the military on a path to citizenship — to the defense authorization bill.

The bill failed to muster enough votes to get to the floor — an outcome many Democrats argued was not so much a referendum on the added provisions but a way for Republicans block the majority party from achieving any victories before the elections.

Reid’s counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, put it bluntly:

“It’s a cynical act that appears to be to try to salvage a losing campaign.”

But ask Republicans whether they see an overall change in Reid’s tactical style, and there is quite a difference between the policy and the person.

“I don’t see him being affected,” said Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has been in the Senate through Reid’s career. “Harry’s as steady as always.”

Whatever opinions people hold about him as a candidate and senator, Reid is widely respected in Washington for being an experienced strategist — which has earned his party several victories but is also a root cause of why he is so reviled.

Reid has presided over the Senate in the four years when party discord has been at an all-time high, and cooperation at one of its nadirs. Few controversial measures — and several seemingly noncontroversial ones — move forward without a filibuster. The 111th Congress has set a record for most cloture votes taken in congressional history — and the lame duck portion is yet to come.

Who’s to blame for the acrimony is the $64,000 question — but as the leader of the majority and the controller of the Senate floor calendar, Reid’s an obvious target to take these hits.

But the soft-spoken former boxer — as the president likes to point out — is used to it.

Before his term as majority leader began in 2007, Reid was the Democratic minority leader, a position he took over from his friend Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, after Daschle lost his 2004 re-election bid to Republican John Thune.

Before that, Reid served as Democratic whip — the second-in-command position now occupied by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Perhaps that’s why in Washington — despite the obvious pressures of the campaign — Reid doesn’t appear to be out of his element, even behind closed doors.

“Quite the opposite,” said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who worked closely with Reid on the defense authorization bill. “He’s been handling everything coolly and confidently, as he always does.”

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