Reid-Obama Mosque-moves Divide Democrats

Democrats chalk up Harry Reid's break with President Obama (over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City) to Reid defensively positioning for re-election against a tough challenge from firebrand Republican Sharron Angle.

The race is a tossup and Reid is scrambling.

But the Nevada Democrat is much more than an endangered candidate for re-election--he's the Majority Leader of the United States Senate and that has global implications.

When visiting heads of state and world religious leaders arrive in Washington, they first go to the White House then make Reid's office their next stop.

His political positions have consequences beyond his 2010 race in the Silver State because he's boss of the Senate's controlling Democratic majority.

The Reid-Obama break is not just between two Democrats, it's arguably between the nation's two most powerful leaders.

Mosque opponents could hardly have hoped for a rift (to spotlight their own objections to the mosque) with any more influential Democrat - with the possible exceptions of Vice President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Now they, and of course House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will have to answer a myriad of questions about who they side with, their Senate Majority Leader or their president--and why.

Reid's break also makes it easier for other Democrats to disagree with the president and come out against allowing a new Islamic center near ground zero.

If other Democrats don't join Reid, he'll be increasingly isolated and thus obviously not leader of the Democratic majority on an easily understandable hot button issue few will soon forget.

Overnight the interest group pressure on Reid has intensified.

It's not just Muslim groups concerned about the mosque-split between the Democratic majority leader and Democratic president; Jewish, Christian, and other groups also know they too will be expected to react and take sides.

The liberal blogosphere and what White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs referred to as the "professional left" now see a very dangerous wedge issue within their own party.

Every individual or group involved in political or religious debate or activism now has a stake in the matter. Democrats who shrug off Reid's decision as mere 2010 positioning tacitly accept that he is cravenly political and disingenuous.

If Democrats do hold on to the Senate majority and Reid is not ousted, will liberals try to block him from serving as majority leader after this?

Traveling with the president on Tuesday, White House spokesman Bill Burton downplayed the rift as an insignificant difference of opinion between friendly Democrats, as opposed to a division within the U.S. government itself. 

"Senator Reid is a fiercely independent individual; it's one of his strengths as a leader of the Democratic Party. So the President feels completely fine that he might disagree," Burton said.

So for those Democrats worried about the controversy, the message seems to be - have faith.