The Quiet Power of Jack Reed

By IAN DONNIS  |  August 13, 2008

Not coincidentally, the Ocean State has a tradition of electing senators who remain in office for long periods of time, going back to the likes of Nelson W. Aldrich — who was dubbed “the General manager of the Nation,” because of his command of monetary policy in the first decade of the 20th century — and more recently exemplified by such civic-minded figures as Theodore F. Green, John O. Pastore, Claiborne Pell, and John Chafee.

“Jack is right in that direction,” says Whitehouse, “and historians looking back will find him a more meaningful figure in the Senate than some of those.”

The media guessing game
If Reed has any pique about a seemingly unending barrage of media questions about his future, he’s not letting on.

Yet back in April 2007 when I wrote on the Phoenix’s Not for Nothing blog that Reed was being coy in response to my inquiry about his potential place in a new Democratic administration, Chip Unruh, the senator’s DC-based press secretary, got in touch to say that he considered Reed’s answer — that he felt privileged to serve in the Senate and hoped to win reelection — “pretty categorical.”

If the spokesman had hoped to successfully pre-empt continued questioning along the same line by reporters in Rhode Island and in Washington, it didn’t work.

In July 2007, for example, Andy Miga, a DC-based reporter for the Associated Press, wrote about how “the low-key, unassuming” Reed, who “tends to get overlooked in the Senate where more brash personalities and shrill partisan attacks dominate” was at center stage during a heated debate over the war in Iraq.

“The former Army captain has cemented his role as a leading Democratic voice on the war,” Miga wrote. “There’s even speculation he could be tapped as defense secretary or another high-level post if Democrats capture the White House in 2008.

“ ‘You’d have to give him a hard look,’ said Norman Ornstein, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, who specializes in Congress and the presidency. ‘In the old days we would call him the E.F. Hutton senator. When he speaks, everybody stops and listens. He’s somebody who commands wide respect.’ ”

During a July 2007 appearance on WJAR-TV’s 10 News Conference, Reed was similarly unequivocal in telling Jim Taricani about his plans:

TARICANI: Let’s talk a little bit about your future, we’ve asked you this before, should a Democrat get elected president in ’08 and should you be requested or nominated to be Secretary of Defense, would you accept that position?

REED: No. My intention and hope is that I will be re-elected by the people of Rhode Island. I’m very privileged to serve as a United States Senator and I hope they will give me the opportunity to serve the state and the nation for six more years.

TARICANI: So you are ruling that out.

REED: Yes.

Such disavowals notwithstanding, John Mulligan, Washington correspondent for the Providence Journal, duly reported in February, “The mentioning season is upon us, and Sen. Jack Reed’s name has begun to pop up in print, blogs and TV as a possible ticket-mate for front-running Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. But Reed, emphatic in his declarations of non-interest in a national candidacy, is ready for his 15 minutes of near-fame to be over. ‘It’s very flattering’ to be mentioned, Reed said last week, ‘but my intention is to run for reelection to the U.S. Senate from Rhode Island.’ ”

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