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Reid and Kerry, With Swords Drawn

By Dan Balz and Mike Allen
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page A05

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan isn't the only one in town to get himself crosswise with Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Ask Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Reid and Kerry crossed swords two weeks ago at a closed-door meeting of the Senate Democratic Steering and Coordination Committee with a group of labor leaders, and while accounts vary, there's little doubt that things got tense between the new Senate Democratic leader and the party's 2004 presidential nominee.

Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Kerry was unhappy with the posture of the Democrats and told Reid that they needed to be far more aggressive in fighting President Bush, needed to set up what amounted to a perpetual campaign and needed a plan to prevent Bush from seizing the middle ground in the Social Security fight.

Reid responded that he had set up a campaign-style war room and taken other steps to put the Democrats in fighting mode and made it clear he wasn't going to change course just because Kerry thought something different was needed.

The most extensive account of the exchange noted that Reid had questioned how Kerry had run his presidential campaign in Nevada last year -- he lost the state -- but two other sources say that did not occur.

But several of those in the room described it as an awkward and tough exchange that left no one in doubt as to who was in charge of Senate Democrats. "Reid kind of shot him down," said one person privy to the exchange, adding, "You would never have seen [former Senate Democratic Leader] Tom Daschle do that."

David Wade, a Kerry spokesman, brushed off the incident saying that Kerry and Reid are very close. "Almost nothing would make John Kerry happier than to see Harry Reid become Senate majority leader," he said.

GOP Talks to Black Community

Prince George's Community College, Howard University, "The Tavis Smiley Show" and the African American New Jersey Chamber of Commerce -- not the usual itinerary for a new chairman of the Republican National Committee. But Ken Mehlman, who took the job in January after managing the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, is using a "Conversations with the Community" tour to continue the party's quest to chip away at an ultra-solid Democratic constituency.

"No matter how well we do in elections, the party of Lincoln will not be whole until more African Americans come home," Mehlman said in an interview Friday after visiting the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta.

The party has announced such drives again and again over the years but has made little headway, with many African Americans dismissing the blitzes as little more than rhetoric. But Mehlman received new credibility when Donna L. Brazile, a grass-roots consultant who managed Al Gore's presidential bid, went on NPR to warn Democrats that Mehlman is "now inside the community" and "is a different chairman." Brazile wrote in her "Stirring the Pot" column in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper: "Among Democrats, Mehlman's efforts should be cause for alarm."

Mehlman, who has raised $935,000 for state and county parties during his travels, pushes President Bush's Social Security, education and faith-based agendas as beneficial to minorities. "My message is: Give us a chance, and we'll give you a choice," he said.

Bush took 8 percent of the black vote in 2000 and 11 percent in 2004.

Fighting for Incumbents

Militaries and sports teams try to keep their vulnerabilities a secret. When it comes to Congress, the political parties have the surprising custom of trumpeting their endangered House seats as a way of raising money and warning potential challengers that they will be in for an expensive fight.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has announced its "Frontline 10," who won last year by 55 percent or less and in tough districts for the party; it urged House members and major party donors to help now to preserve the seats in the mid-term elections 20 months away. "A strong first quarter is a crucial step in building a winning campaign," the DCCC solicitation said.

Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), who heads the program, said Republicans would know about the vulnerabilities anyway, and the party wants to help struggling members with cash and expertise. The party, though, is being tougher this year about the amount of fundraising it requires the beneficiaries to do on their own, with targets they must meet to qualify for support. "This is a two-way street," Thompson said in an interview.

The "honorees," most of them from states Bush won handily, are freshman Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Melissa L. Bean (Ill.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), Charlie Melancon (La.) and John T. Salazar (Colo.), plus returning Reps. Leonard L. Boswell (Iowa), Chet Edwards (Tex.), Stephanie Herseth (S.D.), Jim Matheson (Utah) and Dennis Moore (Kan.).

The GOP has a similar effort, the Retain Our Majority Program (ROMP), run by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Tex.). The 10 ROMP targets are freshman Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.), David G. Reichert (Wash.) and Michael E. Sodrel (Ind.), as well as returning Reps. Bob Beauprez (Colo.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Marilyn Musgrave (Colo.), Anne M. Northup (Ky.), Jon Porter (Nev.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.) and Rob Simmons (Conn.).

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