Published Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 | 4 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012 | 9:12 p.m.
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It wasn’t a perfect election, and there’s still a few races outstanding, but election night is mostly turning out how Harry Reid wanted.
Early returns from the East Coast and the Midwest ensure Reid will be in charge of the Senate again. With President Barack Obama’s re-election, Reid will, once again, have a friendly president sitting in the White House. And Republicans may still have a stronghold in the House of Representatives, but they didn’t gain more seats Tuesday.
Still, the status quo may be just about the worst outcome Tuesday.
As we learned over the past two years, this is a balance of Washington power that just doesn’t seem to work.
But somehow, it has to this time. And that means it is time for both Republicans and Reid to decide if they want to wait for a solution or be part of the problem.
“We’re reaching a point where we have no choice but to find solutions,” said Republican strategist Sig Rogich of Las Vegas.
In Nevada, election night was a moment of truth for how well the Democratic Party machine Reid built could outmaneuver the competition.
But for Reid, the more important test starts Wednesday morning and will last for at least the next two years.
Reid spent election night at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s headquarters in Washington watching results come in. A year ago, it might have been a nail-biter of a night, as then, Democrats were in real danger of losing the Senate. But wins in Massachusetts, Indiana and Virginia solidified his standing early on as Senate majority leader.
Two years ago, when Reid emerged from the 2010 midterm elections scarred and battered but with his Senate majority standing, Reid was peddling one line.
“It’s not a bad word to suggest that legislating is the art of compromise,” he told reporters the morning after the election.
But since then, compromise has been elusive.
When the parties have crossed the aisle — whether the task at hand was something complex, like avoiding hitting the debt ceiling, or as straightforward as passing a short-term budget extension — the compromise came with a high political cost. Congress’ approval rating has accordingly plummeted, from a four-year high of 31 percent in early 2009 to single digits at the period’s nadir in 2011.
Reid blames that on Republicans and their unwillingness over the past two years to play ball on much of anything at all.
“We’ve run into a situation here where compromise is not a part of what we do anymore,” Reid said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired this week. “If you look at what Lyndon Johnson had to do when he was the leader, as I am, it was a different world. You know how many filibusters he had to override? One. Me? 248.”
In a statement Tuesday night after it became clear the Democrats would retain control of the Senate, Reid said:
"Now that the election is over, it's time to put politics aside, and work together to find solutions. The strategy of obstruction, gridlock and delay was soundly rejected by the American people. Now, they are looking to us for solutions.
"We have big challenges facing us in the months ahead. Democrats and Republicans must come together, and show that we are up to the challenge.
"This is no time for excuses. This is no time for putting things off until later. We can achieve big things when we work together. And the middle class is counting on us to achieve big things in the months ahead.
"That is what the American expect – and that is what the American people deserve."
But Republicans lay the blame for any Senate gridlock at Reid’s feet, citing the way they felt Democrats steamrolled them when in undisputed control of Washington during the first two years of Obama’s term.
“My key issue was the way the health care was pushed through,” said Don Imel, a registered Republican in Nevada who voted a straight Republican ticket in Las Vegas Tuesday morning. “I strongly believe everyone has the right to health insurance. But it was done behind closed doors.”
Reid has defended his actions, arguing that Republicans would only use any opportunity he gave them to try to undercut the president’s agenda.
There’s reason to believe that might be true.
“In terms of whining about the procedural rules of the Senate, both sides are guilty on that,” said David Damore, professor of political science at UNLV. “In some respects, it’s going to get worse, given the number of moderates leaving both chambers.”
But, he explained, the result of the election – namely Reid’s survival and Obama’s return – will make it incumbent on Republicans to parley.
“Last time (in 2010), when Reid came back after we thought he was a goner, he schooled the Republicans … and you saw a very productive lame-duck session,” Damore said. “Republicans might now take a long, hard look in the mirror and think about finding some common ground.”
Political operatives are slightly less confident, but hopeful.
“It’s kind of the one faint glimmer of hope I’ve held onto … that there’s no capital in (Republicans) continuing to beat up Barack Obama, since he’s not going to be on a ballot in four more years,” Vassiliadis said.
But while strategists are watching the calendar, Reid’s potential partners in Congress are watching the voters.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is one of several Republicans up for reelection in 2014. And it isn’t clear that the voters who will return to the polls in two years are really convinced about the merits of bipartisanship yet.
“I’m 50-50 on reaching across the aisle,” said Michael Friedman, 53, an out-of-work teacher and registered Republican who voted Tuesday for Romney and Dean Heller. “My lifetime experience is that the Democrats make deals and then they just give Republicans the middle finger and walk away.”
And Democrats aren’t terribly hopeful either.
“The Republicans tried to stand in Clinton’s way, and now they’re doing it with Obama … they’re unwilling to compromise,” said Mark Demianeu, 57, a registered Democrat who said he had trouble seeing a way for the parties to work together going forward. “They’re unwilling to compromise. … I’m not optimistic at all.”