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August 30, 2014

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GOP takes aim as Reid girds for re-election

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

He's among the GOP's biggest targets in 2010, but a Republican takedown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is hardly a guarantee.

As Reid, 69, gears up to seek a fifth term, analysts say his role as a Democratic mouthpiece has turned off some voters in libertarian-leaning Nevada and undercut his slogan from campaigns past: "Harry Reid, Independent like Nevada."

Last week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee began airing its first attack ad against Reid, lambasting him as a "super-spending partisan." Committee spokesman Brian Walsh promised that Reid would have "a very competitive race on his hands."

But for all the Republicans' tough talk, Reid, among Capitol Hill's wiliest politicians, has ensured that he'll be difficult, if not impossible, to beat.

Reid was responsible for bringing early presidential caucuses to Nevada, a move that gave Nevada Democrats a 100,000-voter advantage over a weakened state GOP. Just a year ago, Democrats were less than 5,000 voters ahead of Republicans.

The immediate beneficiary was President Barack Obama, but the new voters are sure to help Reid as well.

Currently, Reid has no Republican opponent -- thanks in part to his own maneuvering.

Reid helped defeat former Nevada GOP Rep. Jon Porter in 2008, leaving one potential 2010 challenger in a weakened position to launch a campaign. Before that loss, Porter was softened up by an energetic 2006 challenge from Reid's then-30-year-old press secretary, who ran at Reid's urging.

Another potential GOP challenger, state Sen. Joe Heck, also went down to defeat last year in a relentlessly negative campaign mounted by the Nevada Democratic Party, which is led by Reid loyalists.

Nevada's Republican lieutenant governor, Brian Krolicki, was indicted by the Democratic state attorney general shortly after announcing he might run against Reid. Krolicki claimed Reid was behind felony charges related to his handling of a state college savings program when he was state treasurer, something Reid strongly denied.

Then there was the case of U.S. Attorney Gary Brower, a former GOP assemblyman who also was on some lists of possible candidates. Earlier this month, Obama's transition team surprised some by asking Brower, appointed by George W. Bush, to stay on. Reid had requested Brower keep his job.

Republicans in Washington and Nevada insist there's plenty of time for a strong candidate to emerge. They hope to unite behind someone soon.

That person will have to start raising money immediately. Reid already has raised $3.3 million -- nearly half the total he spent in his last re-election race in 2004.

The Republican challenger won't be able to depend on a flood of campaign cash from the state's key gambling and mining industries. Reid is cozy with both.

"He's always a jump ahead of the competition," observed Ted Jelen, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Anyone who opposes Reid will have difficulty raising money within Nevada, said longtime GOP consultant and gambling industry insider Sig Rogich, who plans to vote for Reid.

Nevada's Republican governor, Jim Gibbons, is so unpopular due to scandals and budget deficits that he'll likely be opposed in the GOP primary next year -- a contest that is sure to draw GOP time and money from the Senate race. One of Reid's sons, Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, is a likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Still, Nevada's junior senator, Republican John Ensign, pointed to Reid's approval numbers, which have hovered around 50 percent, and says "it doesn't take rocket science to know when somebody, at least their numbers, are vulnerable."

Ensign declined to identify possible GOP opponents. But it was Ensign's own razor-thin, 428-vote Senate loss to Reid in 1998 that ensured Reid would never again take victory for granted.

Since becoming Senate Democratic leader in 2004 and then majority leader in 2006, Reid has worked to avoid the fate of his predecessor, Tom Daschle, who was defeated in his home state of South Dakota in 2004.

Even while playing his national role sometimes to excess -- he once called Bush a "loser" -- Reid has been careful to pay attention to Nevada issues. He has tried to kill a planned nuclear waste dump outside Las Vegas by sapping it of funding. He's introduced key lands bills that have enabled growth and has promised plenty of help for Nevada in the stimulus bill Congress is crafting.

"There isn't anything that comes out of here that I don't have my hand in," Reid said last week on a conference call with reporters and state officials about children's health insurance. "My mother used to say, 'Why are you hanging around here -- you afraid you're going to miss something?' Well, back here I don't miss anything."

Reid recently hired campaign manager Brandon Hall, who helped engineer Republican Sen. Ted Stevens' defeat in Alaska last year.

___

Kathleen Hennessey reported from Las Vegas.

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