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Harry Reid: Prime Minister

One of the most compelling stories in national politics is the extraordinary role of Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, who will need the parliamentary talents of Disraeli and the magical skills of Houdini to navigate the convoluted political and legislative situation in the Capitol.

Reid is now effectively playing the role of prime minister, trying to enact the programs of a Democratic president facing a strongly partisan and ideological Republican House and a narrow and tentative Democratic majority in the Senate.

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Reid must simultaneously pass legislation and respond to attacks from the Republican House, satisfy a restive Democratic base whose turnout is essential for Democrats in 2012, support a presidential outreach to businesses that donate substantial funds to Republican candidates, negotiate with a Senate Republican leader who is highly skilled and determined to politically destroy Democrats in 2012 and preserve a Democratic Senate when most senators running in the next election are Democrats.

Superman would be challenged being Senate majority leader today.

The word on the street is that one major Republican strategy for 2012 will be to demonize Harry Reid the way the GOP demonized former Speaker and current House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in 2010. Bad plan. Ask Sharron Angle. House Republicans should remember that more than 60 House GOP seats will be defended in 2012 in districts President Obama carried in 2008.

Harry Reid as prime minister has one very powerful weapon in his arsenal: Reid understands, more than most political leaders and pundits in the capital, the paramount truth of American politics today:

Voters want jobs, jobs and more jobs. Reid represents a state full of workers who have been economically devastated. He just finished a campaign that drove home to him in very personal terms the hardship and pain of the jobless. Reid knows that what matters is not the talk about jobs, but the creation of jobs.

Washington knows and respects that Harry Reid steered Senate Democrats from minority to majority status, and that in 2010 he won a dramatic upset reelection and steered Democrats to keeping their majority under very harsh circumstances.

What is more important and not widely understood is the powerful human and political impact on Reid of winning an election virtually everyone believed he would lose, in a hard-hit state where he came to viscerally identify with and champion those who endure the savage pain of a cruel economy.

In this sense Reid’s experience in 2010 is similar to the experiential growth of Robert Kennedy.

In ways that are personally powerful and compelling, Reid knows what Reagan knew when he asked if voters are better off than they were four years ago. What will matter in November 2012 are the jobs numbers that will be announced in October 2012. Voters want jobs, not talk about jobs, promises about jobs or blame for the lack of jobs.

Reid gets it. It is important that Reid steers to passage as much of the president’s agenda as possible. It is equally important that President Obama listen very carefully to Harry Reid’s advice. As the majority leader escalates his intense focus on jobs, his challenges become far easier to master.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.