By Alexander Bolton - 11/24/12 11:00 AM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) infuriated Republicans during the campaign with his harsh partisan attacks and now faces the delicate task of mending his relationship with the GOP.
"I do think he lost more credibility with Republicans because of his aggressive comments during the campaign,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist and former leadership aide who served in the Senate and House.
“The make-up of the Senate is almost the same and I think Sen. Reid is likely to produce the same type of gridlock he did before because of his unusually partisan stance," Bonjean added.
Reid said Romney, a fellow Mormon, “sullied” their shared faith after the GOP nominee told a group of donors that 47 percent of Americans suffered from a sense of victimhood and mooched off the government. Reid declared in the closing days of the campaign that Senate Democrats would not work with Romney to pass his “severely conservative” agenda.
But sources who know the Democratic leader, a former amateur boxer, say it’s a classic case of Reid being Reid. He punches hard during the campaign but is willing to pivot to constructive bipartisan relationships after Election Day, just as fighter is willing to embrace his opponent after the final bell.
“Sen. Reid knows as well as anyone there’s a time for politics and a time for governing,” said Rodell Mollineau, a former senior aide to Reid. “The time for politics has passed. First and foremost, Sen. Reid cares about governing. So now that the election is over, he would want to find a consensus to move things forward.”
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Reid immediately extended a peace offering to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) after Democrats picked up Senate seats.
“I look at the challenges that we have ahead of us and I reach out to my Republican colleagues in the Senate and the House. Let’s come together. We know what the issues are, let’s solve them,” he told a boisterous audience and stand of television cameras packing the ballroom of the Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel on Election Night.
The following day, Reid reiterated his offer and made an overture to his home-state colleague, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), another target of his campaign barbs. During Heller’s race against Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), Reid accused his colleague of “a failure in leadership” for not rounding up GOP votes for an online poker bill.
Heller said during the campaign he often felt like he was running against Berkley and Reid, who mobilized his state network against the Republican.
The day after the election, however, Reid warmly praised Heller as a longtime friend.
“Dean Heller and I have been friends for 25 years,” Reid said, recalling Heller’s role as Nevada secretary of state when Reid almost lost his seat in 1998 in a race decided by a recount. “He was so helpful. I have affection for Dean Heller. I like him a lot. We’ll be able to work together.”
Reid also formed a non-aggression pact with former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who almost defeated him in 1998, after Ensign won election to the Senate. Their staffs used to hold joint holiday receptions in the Mansfield Room.
Reid said he had a “pleasant conversation” with Boehner after Election Day.
“I have a fine relationship with him. My staff works well with his staff,” he said.
The relationship was much less cordial before the election, especially in 2011, when Reid criticized Boehner for threatening to let the debt ceiling expire and letting the House take a weekend off as their negotiations neared a climax.
Former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who served 18 years with Reid in the Senate, predicted Reid’s partisan rhetoric would not damage negotiations with Republicans on avoiding the "fiscal cliff."
"Not at all," Gregg said. "We have what I call a once-every-four-year period where the music stops and everyone has their portfolio of power. Governing comes first and politics comes second. The window lasts for about eight months. All the payers involved played aggressively in political roles. They have to change hats and govern. Harry Reid is very capable of doing that."
Reid’s colleague, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has been at the forefront of efforts to reach a bipartisan agreement on tax reform, also said he is not concerned.
“Sen. Reid has a long history of negotiating these agreements. Elections are in effect renewals. Gov. Romney didn’t win the election so he’s not at the table,” Wyden said.
One GOP strategist said the pressure to get a deficit-reduction deal is too high to let bitter feelings left over from the campaign get in the way. Memories of Reid’s harsh attacks could complicate progress on other issues.
“When there’s less pressure to get a deal done, some of the stuff he pulled on the campaign trail against Romney could come back to haunt him,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “Somewhere down the line Republicans may pick a time to get even with Harry Reid because he went off the reservation on some of that stuff. In politics, what goes around comes around.”
A senior Democratic aide, however, said it would be foolish for Republicans to contemplate retaliation.
“Reid has outflanked and outsmarted Republicans again and again - they simply can't figure out how to beat him. But at the end of the day, he is and has always been a dealmaker,” the aide said. “Republicans would be wise to stop playing Lucy with the football, give up on trying to beat him, and instead seek to work with him to get the best deal possible.”