Herding the Democrats

A Westerner with a tough skin and quiet savvy will take on Bush in the Senate. What fights will he pick?

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The son of a hard-drinking gold miner who eventually shot and killed himself, Reid grew up in the town of Searchlight, 54 miles south of Las Vegas, in a tiny wood shack with a tin roof. He boarded with a family to attend high school in Henderson, 40 miles away, and he later went to college with money chipped in by Henderson townsfolk. Once an amateur boxer, he worked nights as a Capitol Hill police officer to pay for law school at George Washington University. As chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981, Reid, a devout Mormon, battled organized crime's control of Vegas casinos and contended with threats as well as a bomb placed in his wife's car that police defused.

Now his challenge is herding a group of Democratic Senators whose number is set to dwindle to 44 from the current 48. Lest he suffer the same fate as Daschle, he must balance his role as a partisan with the fact that he represents a state that Bush won, albeit narrowly. Reid also can't ignore that other Democratic Senators from Bush states--such as Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Bill Nelson of Florida--will be up for re-election in 2006 and don't want to be picked off either. Democratic Senators say Reid plans to choose his fights carefully, perhaps letting a compromise on tort reform go through, for example, but battling fiercely if Bush tries to privatize parts of Social Security.

A consummate Senate insider, Reid has largely shunned the cameras, and one senior Senate Democratic aide is worried that he "doesn't have a strong TV personality." But Reid has been consulting regularly with imagemaker Jim Margolis, who produced some of the most powerful TV ads for John Kerry during the primaries, and Reid plans to add media experts to his staff, showing once again his determination to rise to the task at hand.

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