By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Moving fast to take advantage of the highly controversial words about Barack Obama's race from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republicans are mining past Democratic comments decrying GOP race statements in a bid to build a case for Reid to step down from his leadership post.
At the center of their attention is the case of Sen. Trent Lott, who in 2002 stepped down from his leadership role after making racial comments. "We are having a field day digging up quotes from '02 showing a clear double standard from how Democrats reacted to the Lott comments versus their reaction to Reid," said a key Republican official. In 2002, while at an event for Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, Lott said that if the country had followed Mississippi's presidential vote in 1948, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over these years." In the following days, the comments were called racist as Democrats said Lott was advocating Thurmond-style segregation even though Lott's aides said he was just saying something nice about the senator. Reid used much starker language in supporting Obama, referring to his skin color and "Negro dialect," according to the new campaign book Game Change.
However, Republicans are not planning to make Reid's comments a federal case and instead seem to want only to embarrass him. The reason is that they don't want him to bow out of his re-election in Nevada where they have a better than even chance of beating him. "There is a fear, however, that inflicting too much damage will cause him not to file for re-election," said a GOP source. That might prompt a more popular Democrat to run for the seat.
The first evidence of the quote search effort came earlier today when the National Republican Senatorial Committee found old Reid quotes poking fun at Lott over the Thurmond affair. Said the NRSC: "In light of controversial racially derogatory statements by U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) about Barack Obama's skin color and so-called 'Negro dialect,' voters are reminded of Reid's outrage in response to then-Majority Leader Trent Lott's (R-MS) offhand remark at a birthday party for former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond in 2002.
"At the time, Reid called Lott's statements 'repugnant' and responded to Lott's resignation as Senate Majority Leader by stating that Lott 'had no alternative' but to step down because he had 'dug himself a hole … and he couldn't figure out a way to get out of it.' "