SAN FRANCISCO — The race between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination will be over by the end of next week, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.
Speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California, Reid, D-Nev., said he consulted Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on Wednesday night and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, on Thursday morning, and they all agree.
If neither candidate has clinched the nomination after the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee decides this weekend what to do about Florida's and Michigan's contested delegations, or after Puerto Rico's primary Sunday and Montana's and South Dakota's on Tuesday, he'll advise Senate Democrats to end the contest by taking sides as superdelegates, he said. A significant block of congressional superdelegates all moving at once would most likely put one candidate over the number needed to clinch the nomination.
"I don't lament this campaign taking as long as it has, but it's time it ended," Reid said, noting the enormous Democratic voter registration and participation gains that this heated contest has brought.
Reid's avowal goes further than Pelosi went Wednesday. She'd predicted the race would be done by next week's end, but said she would step in if it wasn't decided by the end of June.
Asked which candidate he supports, Reid said he has stayed neutral because whichever Democrat isn't nominated will return to work with him in the Senate. "I'm going to be the last person out of the chute, so to speak." He acknowledged that as things stood Thursday, it appeared Obama — whom he called "an interesting man, ... such a mellow guy" — will be the nominee. "He and Hillary Clinton are absolutely brilliant," he said, calling Clinton "very intense, very smart and, I think, a wonderful legislator."
Asked whether he might hand over his job as majority leader to Clinton as part of a brokered deal to end the race, he said it's up to Senate Democrats to choose a leader, not him. "I have my job as a result of how 50 senators feel, and come November, it'll be 60 senators."
At the Commonwealth Club to publicize and sign copies of his new memoir, "The Good Fight," Reid said former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new memoir, which pans the president for engaging in political propaganda to build support for an unnecessary war in Iraq, "only confirms that it's the worst presidency in the history of our country.
"It's going to take many years to get out of the hole we're in now, but at least we won't be digging any deeper come Jan. 20" and the inauguration of a new, Democratic president, Reid said. "It's not just the war — this presidency has been so bad for the country and the world."
As for presumptive Republican presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Reid said he has known McCain since they entered the House together in 1983 and then the Senate in 1987. "His temperament is not good, he's wrong on the war, he's wrong on the economy."
In a conversation moderated by KGO-Channel 7 news anchor Dan Ashley, Reid touched on topics from global warming to health care to same-sex marriage. Of the latter, he said he believes the issue is best left to the states to decide; pressed for his personal feelings, he said he believes marriage is only between a man and a woman, and civil unions are appropriate for same-sex couples.
The session was briefly disrupted by protesters who, as they were dragged from the room by security personnel, demanded to know why the Democrat-controlled Senate has continued to fund the Iraq war.
Reid later replied that Democrats simply haven't had enough votes to end the war, which he called "the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of our country." He noted he and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., repeatedly have submitted an amendment to start redeploying troops out of Iraq within four months, and it repeatedly has been defeated; meanwhile, some Democrats remain willing to vote with Republicans to keep funding the troops.
Reid was scheduled to attend a private fundraising event later Thursday in San Francisco.