Mormon senator will take fight to Republicans

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The Independent US

The man who will head the Democrats' fightback in Washington has declared to Republicans that he and his fellow senators are ready to stand up and take them on.

The man who will head the Democrats' fightback in Washington has declared to Republicans that he and his fellow senators are ready to stand up and take them on.

In the aftermath of the 2 November vote, which left Democrats with even less of a power base in Congress and which saw Tom Daschle, their leader in the Senate, lose his seat, the party is looking to Harry Reid of Nevada to orchestrate the resistance.

The vote to select a new leader has not yet been held but officials are expecting little opposition to Mr Reid, a teetotal Mormon who opposes abortion and was a co-sponsor of a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning.

Mr Reid, 64, said although the Democrats had lost four of their 49 Senate seats, the party was not without a fair degree of political clout. "We still have 45," he told The New York Times. "I think it is very clear on matters of principle that we can stand our ground."

Mr Reid is poised to become the Senate minority leader at a time when the Democrats are looking for a figure to rally around in the wake of John Kerry's defeat by George Bush. The figures who emerge ­ especially at the helm of the party's national organisation ­ are likely to have a big say in who runs for president in 2008.

Last week, Mr Kerry let it be known that he was planning to return to the Senate, from where he would continue his opposition to the Republicans. Aides said it was "conceivable" that he would run again for president in 2008. It is unlikely, however, that there would be much support for Mr Kerry to make a second bid for the White House. While he is generally thought to have run as effective a campaign as possible, it is likely that the party will look away from the liberal north-east to find a candidate with more national appeal.

Behind the scenes, several figures are also reportedly positioning themselves to try to become chairman of the party after the departure of Terry McAuliffe, who is due to step down shortly. Last week, it was reported that the former presidential candidate and Vermont governor Howard Dean was among up to 10 Democrats with ambitions for the post. Other names mentioned include Mr Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, and the Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack.

The battle for the leadership of the party highlights a continuing struggleto determine which direction the Democrats must take to avoid a third successive defeat in 2008. That debate is taking place between those who feel that the party must offer a more principled stance, offering a clear alternative to the Republicans, and those who believe the future lies in the language of values and centrism to widen its appeal.

Mr Reid will join Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, as the two leading Democrats on Capitol Hill. Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who used to work for Mr Reid, said: "I think that George Bush and the Senate Republicans are in for a big surprise. Harry Reid is one of the toughest people that you'll ever meet and he's also one of the most determined."