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Balancing Nevada, National Interests

Reid "has been active in making sure the mining interests are represented in Congress," said Jack N. Gerard, president and chief executive of the National Mining Association. "Others follow his lead. They see him as an expert on public lands issues."

Aside from Reid and a few other Democrats, mining is a decisively pro-Republican interest: In 2004, the industry gave 85 percent of its contributions, $3,087,108, to the GOP or its candidates, and just 15 percent, or $534,954, to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) can be a fierce advocate for his state's industries. (J. Scott Applewhite -- AP)

In Profile

Harry M. Reid

Title: Senator, Democrat from Nevada.

Education: Bachelor's degree, Utah State University; law degree, George Washington University.

Age: 65.

Family: Married; four sons, one daughter; 15 grandchildren.

Career highlights: Senate minority leader; Senate Democratic whip; member of the House; chairman, Nevada Gaming Commission; lieutenant governor, Nevada; member of the Nevada Assembly; city attorney, Henderson, Nev.; U.S. Capitol Police officer.

Pastimes: Reads history books, does yoga, runs four to five miles most days; has run in 15 marathons.

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While defending the mining industry, Reid on other issues has been a loyal supporter of environmentalists -- especially in opposing the use of Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste disposal site. Noting that "we don't agree with him on everything," especially mining, Debbie Sease, legislative director of the Sierra Club, said, "Harry Reid over the years has been a very strong, solid friend of the environment."

As for the gambling industry, Reid has helped defeat bills to boost taxes on gaming revenue and to bar wagering on collegiate sporting events. He has also sponsored legislation to prohibit Internet gambling, a major source of competition to Nevada casinos.

In March 1994, when President Bill Clinton proposed a 4 percent gambling tax to finance welfare reform, Reid vowed that no such tax would be enacted: "I will become the most negative, the most irresponsible, the most obnoxious person of anyone in the Senate."

"I just think he has done a remarkable job for the state of Nevada," said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., a former head of the Republican National Committee who now runs the American Gaming Association.

Reid can be expected to continue to look out for these industries in his new leadership position -- just as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has carefully protected the interests of Caterpillar Inc. and other Illinois-based companies.

In the last election cycle, Reid was listed by CRP as the top Senate recipient of casino money with $302,463, twice the amount received by either of his closest competitors. Reid, whose father was a hard rock miner, ranked third in 2004 Senate contributions from the Republican-leaning mining industry with $67,409, and he was the only Democrat in the top five.

These dollar amounts would be significantly larger if they included money from gaming and mining lawyers, lobbyists, unions and the myriad suppliers and service providers to these industries. From 2000 through 2002, Reid's "527" Searchlight Committee received more than $825,000 from gambling interests.

Reid showed his skills in navigating these complex personalities, partisan ties and business interests after his bitter 1998 reelection, when he barely survived a challenge by then-Rep. John Ensign (R).

Ensign's father, Michael S. Ensign, is the chairman of one of Nevada's most powerful gaming companies, the Mandalay Resort Group. Circus Circus Enterprises, a Mandalay subsidiary, poured $300,000 into the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and other casinos put $1.3 million into the NRSC. Circus Circus employees contributed an additional $78,400 directly into the Ensign Senate campaign. Reid won reelection by 428 votes out of more than 416,000 cast.

Reid moved to turn enemies into allies the moment the election was over. "It was classic Harry Reid, how he absorbed Ensign into his orbit," said Nevada political columnist Jon Ralston. Reid offered advice and friendship to Ensign, who in 2000 won Nevada's other Senate seat.

"I've looked out for him," Reid said. The two have become so close that Ralston has taken to referring to them as "Harry Ensign."

Last year, when Reid was up for reelection, Mandalay was in Reid's corner: Employees gave him $81,350, and Mandalay gave $200,000 to Reid's Searchlight Committee.

More significantly, members of the Nevada GOP establishment formally endorsed Reid's reelection bid in 2003, sending a clear warning to Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), who was considering a challenge.

On Aug. 25, 2003, Gibbons chose not to run. In September, Michael Ensign gave the Reid campaign $2,000.

Research database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

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