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Closed Door Session: Red State Dems React

Did Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) parliamentary theatrics yesterday do harm to the handful of his colleagues running for reelection in red states in 2006?

At first blush, it would appear not.  One high-level staffer for a red-state Democrat said that the gambit gave his boss the opportunity to look nonpartisan, standing above the fray and calling for Reid and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to get to the bottom of the issue.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), whose state gave President Bush a 33 percent victory in 2004, was appearing on conservative talk radio personality Sean Hannity's show when Reid called for a closed-door session.

"The tactic isn't really the issue except for those playing inside baseball," Nelson told Hannity. "I think the broader point is about the pre-war intelligence and how it was used to go to war and I hope we can keep our focus on that."

Rank-and-file Democrats were not told of Reid's plan until minutes before he unveiled it on the Senate floor, according to Capitol Hill sources close to the process. And red-state senators have been quietly supportive of the Reid maneuver, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

Aside from Nelson of Nebraska, Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Kent Conrad (N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) are the other Democrats standing for reelection in states Bush carried in 2004.  Bill Nelson is expected to face a real challenge in 2006, and Republicans hold out hope that they can find a solid candidate against Byrd after their two top choices took a pass on the race. Bingaman and Conrad seem safe at this point.

A Senate Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, said Bush's falling approval ratings nationwide make red-state Democrats less fearful of bucking the president than they had been in previous years.

"The White House's ability to intimidate red-state senators is significantly diminished," said the source. "In 44 states his approval rating is under 50 percent."

Republicans sought to cast Reid's move yesterday as an obstructionist tactic. Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman at the Republican National Committee, said Reid's call for a closed-door session "reveals the fact that Democrats are devoid of any ideas and would rather resort to cheap political tricks than talk about an actual agenda."

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 2, 2005; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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