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McConnell takes a pass, won’t campaign against Reid

In a possible sign that the controversy over Sen. Harry Reid’s latest gaffe may be fading in Washington, the Senate’s chief Republican this morning took a pass on commenting.

GOP leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, twice declined to join other Republicans who have called for Reid to step down as majority leader.

"Who’s going to be Democrat leader of the Senate is up to the Democratic conference," McConnell told reporters at a news conference that was set up to discuss the trip, according to a transcript.

In another boost for Reid, McConnell later told reporters he would not go to Nevada to campaign against his Democratic counterpart, according to Congressional Quarterly. McConnell’s predecessor, Bill Frist of Tennessee, was accused of violating a gentlemen’s agreement among senators when he journeyed to South Dakota in 2004 to campaign against former Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

Republican Party chairman Michael Steele and Republicans Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas had called for Reid to relinquish his leadership spot in the aftermath of Reid’s reported offhand comment about Barack Obama’s skin color and dialect.

Reid apologized over the weekend to Obama and a passel of African American leaders. He said Monday he was ready to put the episode behind him.

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