So the soft-spoken, hard-knuckled Reid is now activating the vaunted Nevada Democratic machine he has helped build on behalf Rep. Shelley Berkley. The seven-term Las Vegas congresswoman is challenging Reid’s junior partner, Republican Sen. Dean Heller, for his job.
Heller and Berkley are both expected to breeze through Tuesday primaries. Then the general election will begin in earnest, pitting Heller against Berkley — and, only slightly less publicly, against Reid himself.
“He’s kind of like the godfather here,” said Chuck Muth, a Nevada political operative who works with conservative candidates. “If Harry Reid says ‘Shelley Berkley is important to me,’ then everyone knows that Shelley Berkley better be important to them.”
Getting an early start
This month, a PAC run by a former Reid spokesman began airing anti-Heller television ads in the key swing Reno area. That mimicked Reid’s own strategy in 2010, when he left some of the race’s most bitter attacks against opponent Sharron Angle to the same group.
Reid also sent top aide Zac Petkanas to the Nevada Democratic Party, where he’s coordinating efforts for Berkley and the Obama campaign in the state, as well as other Democratic races.
Reid has raised campaign cash on Berkley’s behalf, arguing that the path to retaining his spot atop a majority party might run through Nevada.
Petkanas said Berkley is running her own campaign. But he acknowledged the close ties and the importance of the race for Reid.
“We’re proud of the fact that, unlike the Republicans, we can work together,” he said.
Stressing a clear choice
An affable onetime stock broker and former House member, Heller, 52, was appointed to the Senate in 2011 by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to replace Sen. John Ensign, who resigned after having an affair with a married staffer.
Heller said he and Reid have a good working relationship. Twenty years Reid’s junior, Heller attended the same Mormon temple as the Reid family as a child and still plays in the same basketball league as Reid’s son Leif.
“I don’t hold any ill will toward his involvement,” Heller said, noting he makes the same case to supporters — that the Senate majority is on the line.
“I think it’s a reasonable argument to make. . . . The stakes are high,” he said.
Berkley too has long ties with Reid, whom she first met in 1968, when she was a high school senior and volunteered on his campaign for state assembly.
She insisted voters this year will have a straight-up choice, deciding who would do a better job protecting the middle class in a state hit especially hard by the economic crash.