HUNTSVILLE — The lasting influence of former U.S. Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr., right up until his death, on his fellow Republicans was well-noted. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander were both mentored by Baker, and it was Baker who convinced former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson — another of his proteges — to make a run at the presidency in 2008.
But respect for Baker did not stop at the edge of the right-hand aisle in the Senate chambers; Democrats deeply respected him, as well. That should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the political career of the "Great Conciliator," the man who could cross party lines to broker deals with "the other side." It was once said that if Baker ever ran for president — and he did, in 1980 — more than one sitting Democrat Senator would vote for him.
On Friday, a number of Democrats expressed their condolences to the family of the former Senator, who died Thursday afternoon at his Huntsville home from complications of a stroke.
President Barack Obama said that Baker's career was marked by his bipartisan approach.
"It was his ability to broker compromise and his unofficial role as the 'Great Conciliator' that won him admirers across party lines, over multiple generations, and beyond the state he called home," Obama said.
Vice President Joe Biden called Baker a good friend.
"He was one of the best majority leaders I've ever served with," Biden said. "He was honorable, he was tough, and he was fair."
Roy Herron, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said that Baker was a patriot who put his patriotism ahead of his partianship.
"Senator Baker earned the respect of Democrats as well as Republicans," Herron said.
Harry Reid, current majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and a Democrat, said that Baker was "well-liked by Democrats and Republicans" alike.
"Howard fought for the people of Tennessee and helped lead America through difficult times," President Obama said.