The Democrats' Hope in the Desert

Nevada senator Harry Reid's capitol office is decorated--incongruously, given his taciturn demeanor--with large portraits of two fabulously flamboyant Americans, Andrew Jackson and Mark Twain. The Jackson portrait is dynamic, wind whipped, but slightly obligatory. Old Hickory, the first President who was not an aristocrat, was the brawling founder of the modern Democratic Party, and Reid, newly elected Senate minority leader, is now the highest-ranking Democrat in Washington.

But Twain dominates the room, with his white suit, wild hair and mischievous eye. His is an unexpected, ironic presence in a powerful politician's office--Twain assumed that all politicians were felonious--and Reid's explanation that...

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