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April 20, 2014

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LETTER FROM WASHINGTON:

A lingering case of election-itis

Nearly a month out, U.S. capital still afflicted as Senate seats stay in limbo

Believe me, even political operatives in this town wouldn’t mind if the election season were to end.

For all the depression that sunk in as BlackBerrys stopped delivering addictive hits of political intrigue, the postelection withdrawal funk soon made way for a hopeful sense of normalcy.

Time to plan a holiday trip, go to the dentist, maybe even see a movie. (Who knew they were still making movies these days? It sometimes seemed here, inside the Beltway, as if all the U.S. media had been turned over for election coverage, a rationing of the culture for the sake of democracy.)

One operative I know was counting down the days until his salary runs out in December and he can move on.

But two races for U.S. Senate remain undecided, normally not of much obvious interest to Nevadans. This year, however, two seats are all that separate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from having a 60-seat majority in the Senate that could overpower Republican opposition to Democratic President-elect Barack Obama’s initiatives.

Republican senators in Georgia and Minnesota are fighting for their political lives. The Georgia race is headed to a runoff Tuesday, and ballots in Minnesota are being counted and recounted.

Neither side is calling it quits.

Money is pouring in on both sides, armies of attorneys and volunteers have fanned across the states and big-name surrogates are on the stump.

Nevada’s two senators are at the center of the fight.

As election season drags on, so does the shadow boxing between Sen. John Ensign, who heads up Republicans’ reelection efforts, and Reid, the Democratic leader whose majority Ensign once hoped to erode.

Ensign had been all but ready to walk away from a job that had been tough for Republicans this election cycle. His successor has been named and he has been promoted to a new gig. A few days before Nov. 4, Ensign quipped that he was looking forward to a few days off with his wife in Napa.

Election night came and went, and the bloodbath didn’t look so messy after all. Republicans lost five seats, the lower end of projections.

But several races remained outstanding. Democrats picked up Oregon the next day and two long weeks later, vote-counting in Alaska ended in another stunning Democratic victory.

Those wins pushed Democrats to a 58-seat majority, the largest since the 1970s. Both parties started pouring resources into the remaining two races. Ensign flew to Georgia, as did Republican presidential contender John McCain. Sarah Palin, the former Republican VP nominee, will be there on Monday. Obama volunteers descended on the state.

If anyone thought Reid would sit out a fight for the two remaining seats, they were mistaken.

Fifty-eight seats are not the same as 60.

Reid sent shivers through Republican camps last week when he interjected himself in the Minnesota vote-counting dispute. An election panel had ruled unanimously that several thousand challenged ballots would not be counted, a blow to Democratic challenger Al Franken’s efforts to overcome a 282-vote lead by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

But under the Constitution, the Senate and House have the right to refuse to seat anyone — a radical step, to be sure. Franken, however, mentioned the possibility of Senate intervention. And Reid thundered: “Authorities must ensure that no voter is disenfranchised.”

Reid’s involvement brought this not-so-veiled rebuke from his counterpart in the Senate, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky:

“I would hope that Washington partisans would refrain from injecting themselves into what is, by design, a nonpartisan process,” McConnell said. “Neutrality and distance from the Minnesota recount is particularly important for senators on the Senate Rules Committee, who would need to remain neutral if the election results are considered by the committee.”

Maybe it won’t come to that. But if this election season continues to that conclusion, Nevadans would have a race worth watching to the end.

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