In a book set to hit the shelves on Tuesday, with the title "Game Change", journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann reveal that Mr Reid, Nevada's senior Senator, said in private that Barack Obama was "a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one'".
The New York Times
reports that more than three years before Barack Obama was elected President Mr Reid had urged him, albeit privately, to run for the White House.
notes that in their book Mark Halperin and John Heilemann speak of Mr Reid being "wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts" and of the opinion that "the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate", although his 'light-skinned' and 'negro dialect' references were in the same sentence as the latter observation..
Therefore it appears that Mr Reid, a Senator for 23 years and member of the House before that, was not being in any way racist. But his comments have nevertheless proved embarrassing, and perhaps somewhat hypocritical in view of the criticism he leveled at Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, like Mr Reid a Senate Majority Leader.
When Mr Lott seemingly praised South Carolinian segregationist Storm Thurmond
, an action which led to Mr Lott's resignation in 2002, Mr Reid, according to the New York Times
, is said to have commented:
If you tell ethnic jokes in the back room, it’s that much easier to say ethnic things publicly. I’ve always practiced how I play
In a statement issued Saturday Mr Reid, who the Kansas City Star
says intends to run for reelection to the Senate this year, apologized for remarks he never expected to see in print, saying:
I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans for my improper comments. I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama's legislative agenda
In addition to emphasizing his support for legislation supported by African-Americans and apologizing by phone to President Obama, Mr Reid spoke to other African-American politicians and community leaders - including Representatives James Clyburn of South Carolina and Barbara Lee of California, Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP
chairman Julian Bond - to express his regret for the words he used and the impression they might give.
President Obama, in 2007 the recipient of an apology from Vice-President Joe Biden, then a Senator, for a questionable remark made by Mr Biden involving Mr Obama and his ethnicity, released his own statement concerning Mr Reid's remarks and apology. The President said:
Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today. I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed
When reporting on Mr Reid's intention to seek reelection to the Senate the Kansas City Star
quoted a poll conducted by or on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal
which showed that more than 50 percent of Nevadans are unhappy with their current senior Senator and three potential Republican opponents could all expect to receive more votes than 70-year-old Mr Reid.