LAS VEGAS (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn’t on the ballot this year, but he’s very much in the game.
With Republicans clamoring to take away his majority, Reid is helping Democratic Senate candidates across the nation raise money and demonize their opponents. Nowhere is his hand more visible than in his home state, where Democrats can capture a seat from Republicans.
Reid, who had an arduous race of his own in Nevada two years ago, has loaned his former campaign staff to Rep. Shelley Berkley, Las Vegas’ representative in the House for the past 14 years.
Berkley is Reid’s hope for taking Nevada’s other Senate seat away from Republican Dean Heller, who was appointed to it a year ago when GOP Sen. John Ensign resigned in anticipation of a highly critical Ethics Committee report about his affair with an aide.
“It’s reasonable to make the argument that I have two opponents, yes: Shelley Berkley and Harry Reid,” said Heller.
Republicans need to pick up a net four seats to take over the Senate and Reid’s job as majority leader. Key to that is holding onto the seats the GOP already has, and Heller’s is among the most vulnerable.
The race won’t be easy for either Berkley or Heller, both longtime politicians facing questions from angry voters fed up with a devastated housing market and stagnant economy. Nevada’s unemployment rate of 11.6 percent is the highest of any state.
Heller, who represented Nevada’s conservative northern half in the House for three terms, needs to woo swing voters in the urban centers of Las Vegas and Reno. Berkley is facing her first competitive race in more than a decade as she also fights off ethics allegations that she used her office to advance her husband’s medical career. The two candidates are nearly matched in campaign dollars; each has more than $4 million in cash on hand.
It’s unclear whether Reid’s string-pulling will help or hinder Berkley. Nevada is divided between Republican and Democratic voters, leaving independents to decide elections with often unpredictable results.
Democrats have a stronger party organization in the state, but Reid is surprisingly unpopular in
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