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The Quiet Power of Jack Reed

Without seeking the spotlight, the senator and his star continue to rise
By IAN DONNIS  |  August 13, 2008
CENTER OF ATTENTION: While speculation continues about Reed’s possible place in an Obama
administration, he has consistently described a desire to remain in the Senate.

After almost 20 years in Congress, moving through disparate settings has become familiar for US Senator Jack Reed.
So it wasn’t particularly surprising when Barack Obama asked Reed — who, thanks to his West Point- Army Ranger background, offers a respected voice on national security issues — to join him as part of a bipartisan delegation to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Jordan last month.

Similarly, the way in which Reed sat down with liberal bloggers from Rhode Island’s Future for an August 7 videotaped interview at Local 121, the downtown Providence restaurant and bar, shows how the Democrat makes regular appearances around the Ocean State.

As he closes out his second six-year term in the Senate, perhaps the most elite club in politics — and a long way from his modest roots in Cranston — Reed is the subject of ongoing speculation about his future.

The focus is whether he will take a role in a Democratic administration should Obama win the presidential election in November.

In response to such guessing, Reed’s mantra is that he wants to stay in the Senate. Considering how the 58-year-old senator has an almost-$4 million war chest and consistently polls as the most popular elected official in Rhode Island, he’s a virtual lock to beat his two opponents, Democrat Christopher F. Young and Republican Robert Tingle.

To some, Reed’s early disavowals of interest in an administration position seemed questionable, partly because of his call to service and partly because of the enhanced opportunities in the private sector that come with White House experience.

It’s true, too, barring a change by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, that Republican Governor Donald L. Carcieri will retain the authority to name a replacement if Reed were to win election in November and then take another post, thereby narrowing the margin of Democratic control in the Senate.

If Obama wins and insists that Reed accept the secretary of defense job, “It would be hard for any American to say no to that,” acknowledges Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island’s junior senator.

Yet there’s a case to be made not just that Reed truly wants to remain in the Senate, but that it’s the best place for him to be.

“Right now, he is money in the bank for Rhode Islanders,” says Whitehouse, offering a view not necessarily restricted to partisan Democrats. Earlier this year, Knowlegis ranked Reed as the 17th most-influential of the 100 senators. And with seats on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and on the Senate Armed Services Committee, his influence is bound to grow with the passage of time. This is far more consequential for Rhode Island than the short-term boost in the collective consciousness that would come with a Cabinet appointment.

Reed may not be charismatic or a generator of new ideas. But the qualities that underlie his high approval ratings — thoughtfulness, diligence, trustworthiness, and remembering his roots — represent the flip side of Rhode Island’s less savory politics.

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