The Quiet Power of Jack Reed

By IAN DONNIS  |  August 13, 2008

By May, the ProJo’s Charlie Bakst and WPRO-AM’s John DePetro cast skepticism upon Reed’s assertion that he wanted to remain in the Senate. When I blogged about that, Unruh got in touch, pointing out:

“In the last 27 years, over 140 people served in the cabinets of Presidents Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush, and only 1 person — Lloyd Bentsen of Texas — left their elected U.S. Senate seat to take a cabinet post. After they lost their re-election bids, John Ashcroft and Spencer Abraham joined George W. Bush’s cabinet, but they both had already been voted out of office by the people of their respective states and were not going to serve another term in the Senate.”

Reed’s rejections of interest continued even as the senator — who remained neutral during the primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — lent his support to the victor’s campaign in early June. (And though the notion of a vice-presidential candidate coming from Rhode Island, with all of its four electoral votes, might seem far-fetched, it’s worth recalling that Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, which has even fewer.)

Asked that month about serving in an administration post, possibly VP, Reed told Miga, “It’s very flattering, but I am not interested. That’s it.”

The ProJo’s Mulligan took it a step farther in July: “Reed was asked: ‘If you were offered this [vice-president] position you would decline, is that correct?’ ‘Yeah,’ he answered, ‘but I frankly I don’t expect to be offered the position,’ ” in part since he hadn’t been asked to go through the vetting typical of the process.

ReedWhiteHouseINSIDE.jpg
FROM CRANSTON TO DC: Reed, shown
during the signing of the Conquer Childhood
Cancer Act, connects with his constituents
through centrist legislation and by
remembering his modest roots.
Appeal to the center
As the Senate moved toward its August recess, Reed pointed with satisfaction to three measures poised to become law after years of effort: the Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, which contains $150 million to expand childhood cancer research over five years; the Foreclosure Prevention Act, which is projected to provide between $325 million and $585 million a year to build, preserve, and rehabilitate housing for low-income families; and the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which, among other things, seeks to simplify and streamline the federal student aid form.

Reed’s Republican opponent, Bob Tingle, 50, of Westerly, who works as a pit boss at Foxwoods, made his first run against the senator in 2002. Tingle, whose Web site (bobtingle.com) features a photo of Ronald Reagan, calls Reed a proponent of “big government, tax and spend liberalism.”

Yet it’s Reed’s identification with typical working Rhode Islanders, as seen in his backing for efforts like those described above, that underlies his ability to connect with his constituents.

In April, a lengthy profile by the ProJo’s G. Wayne Miller described how Reed drives a 1991 Ford Escort to get to the Senate from the DC-area home that he shares with his wife, Julia Hart Reed, and their young daughter, Emily. (The central role played by the Senate in Reed’s life can be seen in how he met Hart, a Senate staffer, when they were part of a delegation to Afghanistan in 2002.)

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