Harry Reid's worrisome weekend
By Ben Pershing
The news of the weekend was all about the uncertain futures of a handful of key politicians -- Harry Reid, Michael Steele, Martha Coakley and Sarah Palin.
Reid has had the worst 48 hours, after a new book on the 2008 campaign by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann revealed that Reid had privately called Barack Obama a "light-skinned" African-American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The Associated Press ledes: "A double standard, charge Republicans vainly seeking Sen. Harry Reid's immediate resignation as majority leader. A different context than other racial gaffes, counter Democrats who want Reid to stay on in spite of his embarrassing remarks about Barack Obama." Steele said on Fox News Sunday that Reid should step down, and John Cornyn and Jon Kyl, among others, pointed out that Trent Lott had quit the leadership after making his own racially insensitive comments in 2002. Fox News also reminds that "Reid has a long history of making verbal gaffes that he's had to dial back or explain away."
But there's no sign that Reid is going to heed the advice of his critics by giving up the leader post, and many Democrats -- including Obama -- have said they will stand by him. The Congressional Black Caucus threw Reid another lifeline Sunday night by issuing a statement of support. The Fix suggests "the story can now advance in only one of two ways: either there are more revelations of past controversial statements on race by Reid, which seems unlikely, or some high profile Democrat(s) breaks ranks to call for him to step aside." The Los Angeles Times says "the contretemps is unlikely to affect the healthcare overhaul, which Reid has shepherded through the Senate without Republican support. The real issue is whether the controversy threatens his reelection by injecting race into an already tough campaign and depressing black turnout in Nevada, where 77% of eligible African Americans voted in 2008." The latest controversy came just as a new Las Vegas Review-Journal poll found that Reid trailed both his GOP opponents and that only 33 percent of Nevadans had a favorable opinion of him.
Mark Steyn writes that "obviously any Republican Senate Majority Leader who started musing on such matters would be dark-skinned toast in nothing flat." And Matthew Yglesias says "it's good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can't really apologize for being the sort of person who'd be inclined to use the phrase 'negro dialect' and it's more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that's creepy here than anything else." (On the bright side for Reid, at least he's not Rod Blagojevich, who says he's "blacker than Barack Obama" because he "shined shoes" when he was young. Really. Read the whole thing, as the kids say nowadays.)
Steele, meanwhile, managed to use the Reid story to go on offense after a week's worth of playing defense. Roll Call notes that Steele "said Sunday he believes the GOP will 'absolutely' win back the House in November -- an abrupt about-face from his position last week when he said he doubted Republicans could take control." Politico writes bluntly that Steele is secure in his job because of his race, and quotes a party strategist saying: ""You're not going to dump the first African-American chairman. That's the only reason. Otherwise, he'd be gone." Beyond the dispute over Steele, the GOP has other internal battles that will hobble the party's ability to make major gains in November, according to the completely impartial observer Tim Kaine. "There is a civil war that's corrosive on the Republican side that is going to enable us to do a lot better than many folks think," Kaine said on Meet the Press.
In Massachusetts, the Senate special election contest between Martha Coakley and Scott Brown appears to have tightened. But by how much remains the subject of debate. The Boston Globe reports that "Coakley, buoyed by her durable statewide popularity, enjoys a solid, 15-percentage-point lead over" Brown in the Globe's own poll, as "Coakley is seen as the candidate best able to handle almost every issue voters were asked about, even those that Brown has made centerpieces of his campaign, such as taxes, the economy, and health care." At the same time, "Brown matches Coakley - both were at 47 percent - among the roughly 1 in 4 respondents who said they were 'extremely interested' in the race." Republicans also touted a Public Policy Polling survey that actually gave Brown a 1-point lead, and a Rasmussen poll that gave Coakley a 9-point lead. (Both firms use automated dialing, a practice that is not widely accepted in the industry.) Whatever the polls say, the Washington Post reports "the buzz in political circles over the past week is that ... Brown is rapidly making up ground on" Coakley. The Boston Herald says "spooked Democratic groups" are going "into overdrive" to stir up grassroots support for Coakley. The two candidates are scheduled to debate Monday night.
Back now to the Halperin/Heilemann book, which includes more details about the McCain campaign's vetting of Palin, or lack thereof. In a "60 Minutes" piece on the book Sunday night, Steve Schmidt said Palin had attributed her selection for the ticket to "God's plan." That comment warranted a big story from the Associated Press but likely won't seem surprising or controversial to religious viewers and readers. Politico says of Schmidt: "While the GOP strategist has previously criticized Palin, he has never before leveled such a sharp critique of her integrity - and certainly not on a national television."
Two other worthwhile links from the book: 1) A fascinating excerpt on the slow-motion implosion of the John Edwards campaign (note the less-than-sympathetic portrayal of Elizabeth Edwards); and 2) The New York Daily News pulls out quotes on Obama from Bill Clinton, who reportedly said to Ted Kennedy: ""A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee," and "the only reason you are endorsing him is because he's black. Let's just be clear."
January 11, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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