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WASHINGTON – Two years and four months after first winning election to the House with support of tea party groups in his Southern Tier district, Rep. Tom Reed is going bipartisan, and in a big way.

Reed, R-Corning, announced Monday that he has joined “No Labels,” a bipartisan movement aimed at problem-solving rather than opponent-bashing.

“When you involve yourself in a group like No Labels, a large, bipartisan group whose sole purpose is to bring people together from the Senate and the House who work across the aisle, I think that’s a positive step in the right direction of trying to get things done and remove the roadblocks we see in Washington, D.C., when it comes to partisan divides,” Reed said in his weekly conference call with reporters.

Still, Reed’s embrace of the centrist organization didn’t sit well with his critics from both right and left.

“It bothers me,” said New York Tea Party leader Rus Thompson. “He won’t have my support again.”

Meanwhile, Reed’s 2012 campaign opponent, Ithaca Democrat Nate Shinagawa, said he was stunned at Reed’s announcement.

“If he were truly a no-labels person, he wouldn’t have been going to tea party rallies the last three years,” Shinagawa said.

For his part, Reed said his new alliance with the bipartisan organization was a natural reflection of what he’s learned since coming to Congress.

“[After] a little over two years in Washington, D.C., it’s recognizing that the problems are not getting better with age; they’re getting worse,” Reed said. “It demands that we have to work together and find that common ground and accept the reality of today, with a split government.”

Founded by Democratic fundraiser Nancy Jacobson, Republican political consultant Mark McKinnon and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, No Labels says its mission is “to help move America from the old politics of point-scoring toward a new politics of problem-solving.”

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the group’s honorary co-chairman, welcomed Reed with open arms.

“By joining the problem-solvers, Rep. Tom Reed is proving his commitment to working across the aisle to do what’s best for the country,” Huntsman said. “This group is truly patriotic – its members are putting the country first to solve problems.”

Still, Reed’s involvement in the group comes as a surprise, given his long ties to tea party groups. Even Monday night, his district director was set to meet with the Cattaraugus County Tea Party, said Carl Edwards, the head of that group.

“I have very mixed feelings” about Reed’s involvement in the group, said Edwards, adding that he wanted to discuss the move with Reed before making any further comment.

Thompson, however, was aghast, calling No Labels “a Democratic group” and adding: “If you want to join the Democrats, change your party label, Tom.”

But Reed’s embrace of No Labels does not seem to entail any wholesale philosophical change away from the conservatism Reed has preached for years. On the conference call, for example, he rejected the idea of any new taxes and criticized legislation opposed by gun groups that would make gun trafficking a crime, saying: “People do believe this is part of a backdoor way to get to gun bans.”

Hearing all of that, Shinagawa – who recently announced he will not challenge Reed again in 2014 – said he wondered how much Reed had really changed.

“It’s interesting that he’s joining No Labels when all he does is use talking points, and all of them come with labels like the tea party or purely fiscally conservative groups,” Shinagawa said.

Reed’s move comes four months after he beat Shinawaga by 4 points in a race that pundits said was surprisingly close.

That race took place in Reed’s newly configured 23rd district, which includes Democratic bastions such as Ithaca that were not in the district he first won in 2010.

Saying that he remains a strong fiscal conservative and that his philosophy has not changed, Reed added that he also tries to be “a practical conservative.”

“I don’t see it as an evolution,” he said. “I see it as a recognition of the reality of the day.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com