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Inside Politics

Democrat Reid seeks Senate leadership post

Minority whip from Nevada says he has votes to replace Daschle

Harry Reid
Sen. Harry Reid won his fourth term Tuesday with 61 percent of the vote.
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- In the wake of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's election defeat Tuesday, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said Wednesday that he has enough support among his colleagues to become the next Democratic leader.

"I have more than 30 votes," said Reid, the Senate's minority whip, at a news conference in Las Vegas, just hours after Daschle conceded his race in South Dakota.

Reid will apparently not face any opposition for the leader's post, after an expected challenge by Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut failed to gain traction.

"I think Harry Reid is going to be our choice," Dodd told CNN on Wednesday. "He's going to have my support, and I think he'll have the support of a majority of our colleagues.

"We need to pull together. We don't need a battle right now."

The soft-spoken, bespectacled Nevadan sought Wednesday to strike a conciliatory tone in the often contentious relationship between the two parties in the Senate, in the wake of President Bush's election victory and a strong showing by Republicans that increased their majority by four seats. (GOP will increase control in Senate)

"There is no need to talk about the disagreements at this stage. We have to work together," Reid said. "I'm not going to dwell on what's gone on in the past. We have some things that we need to work on together."

Reid also said he had received a phone call from Bush.

"I appreciate that very much. He had no reason to call me, other than the fact that he knows that he's going to have to work with me. I look forward to working with him," he said.

Reid, 64, won his fourth term Tuesday with 61 percent of the vote in a state Bush narrowly carried.

The one-time chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission is also a Mormon who stands at odds with most of his party by opposing abortion rights. But the senator said Wednesday that he does not believe his stand on that issue will be an obstacle, noting that he has the support of at least seven women in his caucus and has already spoken to Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"I'm one of her big fans, and she's one of my big fans," Reid said. "I don't have to give up any of my principles to be someone who can lead the Democrats through the legislative morass that we have."

If selected by his peers, Reid will take over a caucus diminished by a weak election showing, with just 44 Democrats left to face off against 55 Republicans. The chamber's one independent, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont, caucuses with Democrats.

Despite their gains, Republicans still remain five votes short of the 60 they need under Senate rules to overcome a Democratic filibuster -- a tactic sometimes used to thwart Bush's agenda during his first term, particularly his judicial nominations.

However, that tactic may have helped sink Daschle, whose opponent, former GOP Rep. John Thune, tagged him as an obstructionist. The increased GOP majority also means that Republican leaders have to attract just a handful of moderate Democrats -- particularly those from states Bush carried -- willing to cross party lines on a given issue in order to build a filibuster-proof majority.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee issued a statement calling on both parties to put the election behind them.

"It is time to heal the partisan divide and begin the process of reconciliation. Beginning [Tuesday] night, I spoke with many of my colleagues -- Republican and Democrat -- to begin that process," Frist said. "Now is the time for all citizens to lay partisan squabbling aside and work for a safer, healthier, more prosperous America."

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