September 25, 2010 1:59 am

Business lobby wary of joining bid to oust Reid

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The US Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby group that is projected to spend $75m in the midterm congressional election, is steering clear of one key contest: the Nevada Senate race where Harry Reid, Democratic majority leader, is struggling against a Tea Party favourite.

The Chamber has not endorsed the colourful Republican candidate Sharron Angle or contributed to her campaign, nor does it plan to in the final six weeks leading up to November’s election, according to Bill Miller, the Chamber’s national political director.

Instead, it is pouring cash into almost exclusively Republican races in California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire and Colorado, and forcing Democrats to respond.

“The Nevada race has a lot of challenges to it and so, right now, we are focusing on the races where we have already made investments,” Mr Miller said in an interview with the Financial Times.

At first glance, the move appears to run counter to the Chamber’s own goals. As majority leader, Mr Reid was one of the principal drivers of the Democratic agenda, steering legislation through the Senate – such as the healthcare bill and financial services reform – that the Chamber has said represents a threat to free enterprise.

The Chamber played a key role in ousting the Democrats’ last majority leader, Tom Daschle, who lost his re-election bid in 2004.

At the time, Mr Miller told The Hill newspaper that the Chamber “had to take a stand” against Mr Daschle because he had “consistently blocked our agenda”.

However, the decision to stay out of the Nevada race appears to be more pragmatic than political. If Mr Reid were to lose his re-election bid – recent polls show him neck and neck with Ms Angle – and Democrats hang on to their majority, either Chuck Schumer of New York or Dick Durbin of Illinois are likely to be elected as the next majority leader.

These two are both seen as more liberal than Mr Reid, who represents a conservative state. Privately, Washington insiders on both sides of the aisle say that the other Democratic lawmakers would probably be more effective than Mr Reid at wielding power in the Senate.

Asked about potential replacements for Mr Reid, Mr Miller said: “Both Senators Schumer and Durbin are far more hostile to business than Senator Reid.”

A spokesman for Mr Reid’s campaign noted that while the senator and the Chamber do not agree on every issue, that they have worked together issues where there is agreement. Ms Angle’s campaign did not respond to calls for comment.

Mr Reid and Ms Angle are tied with 43 per cent of the vote, according to one opinion poll published this week. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, however, Ms Angle has a 20 per cent lead among independent voters, who could determine the outcome of the contest.

The race is one of this year’s most expensive. Mr Reid has a $19m war chest. Ms Angle has raised $3.5m.

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