Reid rakes in campaign cash, even without opponent
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, vulnerable in home-state polls but without a big-name opponent so far, takes the stage Tuesday with President Barack Obama at a Las Vegas-style fundraiser billed as "The Good Fight."
But the big-dollar bash begs the question: Where's the fight?
Despite months of promising to target Reid for ousting in 2010, Republicans have yet to land a major candidate deemed capable of raising the money and enthusiasm needed to unseat a sitting majority leader.
A recent newspaper poll showing Reid's vulnerability highlighted the GOP's dilemma. In a survey for the Las Vegas Review-Journal published last week, 45 percent of Nevada voters told pollsters they would definitely vote to unseat Reid. Another 17 percent said they would consider another candidate.
Finding that candidate, while the four-term Democratic senator is calling in chits and racking up campaign money, is proving difficult.
"He's the majority leader and he's going to raise a ton of money. That's intimidating to run against," Nevada's other senator, Republican John Ensign, said of his party's search. A viable candidate would need to get in the race "in the next few months, certainly," Ensign said.
Intimidation has been no small part of Reid's early strategy.
A year and a half from Election Day, the senator has raised a whopping $7.5 million, already half a million more that he spent on his 2004 campaign.
He also has secured the public support of some high-profile Republican donors in Nevada and is believed to have locked up funding from the state's powerful gambling industry.
Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall said the senator is merely responding to Republican promises to target his seat.
"That is why we are starting early and will be prepared to run an aggressive campaign no matter who our opponent will be," Hall said.
Tuesday's fundraiser features headliners Sheryl Crow and Bette Midler. Tickets start at $50 for the concert, but a $29,600 contribution that will be split between Reid's campaign and the Nevada Democratic Party gives donors access to the senator and president.
"This fundraiser is just another show of his strength," said David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "It's a message to any opponent: If you want to compete, this is the kind of game you're going to have to play."
GOP officials insist they will play.
Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden said she is vetting candidates, "some of whom are well-known in the state and some of whom are not as well-known but could self-fund."
Lowden was quick to note Reid's rocky poll numbers in Nevada, as well as his unpopularity outside the state. As a symbol of Democrats' control of Congress, Reid is seen as a polarizing figure but one nevertheless capable of shaking dollars loose from Republican donors from Mississippi to Wyoming.
Outside groups have promised to pour in millions of dollars in independent television and direct mail campaigns. One, the Sacramento-based Our Country Deserves Better PAC, promised to spend $100,000 on anti-Reid radio and television ads timed to Obama's visit.
Nevada GOP officials also will launch a national fundraising mail campaign this week, said Las Vegas-based Republican consultant Ryan Erwin, a party adviser.
"Every month that somebody's not raising the money is a missed opportunity," Erwin said.
Fundraising isn't Republicans' only struggle. The state party was hobbled by a Democratic organizing effort that yielded a 12-point victory for Obama last year. Along with a nearly 100,000-Democratic voter advantage, Nevada Republicans are suffering from a leadership vacuum as Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons continues to be dogged by scandals since taking office in 2006.
With the clock ticking, pressure is mounting on the few GOP candidates viewed as viable.
Rep. Dean Heller has emerged as the party's top pick. As a former secretary of state in Nevada, Heller has run successful statewide races. He's popular in northern and rural Nevada, places where Reid struggles.
But, Heller, 49, also holds an increasingly safe congressional seat. He also recently won a powerful perch on the tax-writing House Ways and Mean Committee, raising the stakes on what he could lose by challenging Reid.
Heller's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Other names in consideration include U.S. Attorney Greg Brower, a former state assemblyman, and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who remains hamstrung by criminal charges that he mishandled state funds. Krolicki has denied wrongdoing, called the charges political and is seeking to have them dismissed.
The longer Republicans go without an anointed challenger to Reid, the more lesser-known contenders flirt with running.
Anti-tax activist and former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle has said she is exploring getting in the race. Angle is a favorite among fiscally conservative Republicans, and may be able to raise outside money.
But Angle said she has not been embraced by the GOP's recruiting arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"They're standing back. Everybody is standing back waiting to see what happens," she said.
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