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Reid's Problem Isn't Nevada

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Ari Melber's May 7 article, "Dems Will Be Better Off If Reid Loses" reminds me of those arguments about the bright side of global warming.

Even worse than the idea that a leader's defeat can be beneficial to his party is Melber's misunderstanding of the Senate and its criteria for choosing a floor leader.

If electoral safety were the primary reason, then the Republicans should have chosen Jim Inhofe (speaking of climate-change deniers) over Mitch McConnell -- since Kentucky is far less safe than Inhofe's Oklahoma.

While it is true that Tom Daschle of South Dakota had an especially tough state for a Democrat, when the electorate is rebellious -- as it is now -- no state is safe. Could we have imagined Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts seat falling to a Republican?

No, Reid's problem, and that of the Democrats, is not Nevada.

Senators choose leaders largely based on how well they handle Senate affairs. They seek someone who knows how far he or she can ask senators to stick their necks out. In a senator's self-referential world, the question is always, "Does this person understand my state and its political constraints?"

An encyclopedic knowledge of a how far a colleague can be pushed in supporting national policies matters far more than how partisan the leader's state is.

Reid has never been a favorite of the party's left wing, who deplore his somber demeanor. They would probably prefer someone with a charismatic aura and dazzling eloquence.

There may be someone like this in the caucus, but that person would never be leader. He or she would suck all of the oxygen out of the chamber, leaving the other senators gasping for breath.

That is why, when the idea was floated in 2008 that Reid step aside and give his job to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, it went nowhere.

The last person senators want as their spokesman or spokeswoman is a star. Why else would GOP senators have chosen McConnell?

All senators need the two hemispheres of their brains: the Washington lobe and the state lobe.

Is Nevada more of a distraction for Reid than Illinois is for Dick Durbin, with a weakened candidate for the Obama seat? Or New York for Chuck Schumer, running interference for Kirsten Gillibrand?

Melber's core argument is that Nevada politics has caused Reid to trim his sails. But Reid presides over a caucus far less homogeneous than McConnell's.

The Republican leader has to worry only about defections from Maine. Reid not only has Ben Nelson of Nebraska but also a couple of Arkansas Democrats, one from Louisiana and another from Montana.

And it doesn't stop there. Some of his most problematic members are not even up in 2010.

This argument about Reid's lack of pugnacity is a familiar one from progressives. It usually involves tactical suggestions -- like forcing the Republicans to give Jimmy Stewart-style filibusters that would cause them to be held up to public ridicule. It's a suggestion that, under Senate rules, would be as productive as forcing them to bay at the moon.

No Democrat should applaud the defeat of a party leader. Such events are demoralizing -- as we saw with Tom Foley in 1994, and then with Daschle in 2006.

And no group of Democrats would lament Reid's fall more profoundly than the Senate Democratic Caucus, which is also convinced that this wily campaigner can defeat the challengers put forth by fractious Nevada Republicans.

Originally published at Politico.

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