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Will Reid, Heller Play Nice in 2012?

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Dean Heller (above) and Majority Leader Harry Reid disagree on whether they will refrain from criticizing each other during Heller’s 2012 quest for a full term.

Sen. Dean Heller had barely taken the oath of office Monday when the political gamesmanship between himself and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) began.

The Nevada Republican disputed assertions from the Majority Leader’s camp that the two had agreed to a nonaggression pact, even as a senior Democratic Senate aide affirmed that the Nevada colleagues met privately last Thursday and reached an “understanding” to avoid personal, inflammatory attacks against each other during Heller’s 2012 Senate campaign.

The aide described the accord as similar to the agreement observed for nearly 12 years by Reid and John Ensign (R), who resigned from the Senate last week amid an ethics investigation.

Heller — appointed to replace Ensign by Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) — confirmed Thursday’s meeting with Reid, saying the two met at the Majority Leader’s invitation and had a cordial discussion about Nevada issues and how the Senate works. But Heller said unequivocally that the two did not agree to a nonaggression pact or any similar deal. However, he described Reid as gracious, said their relationship was comfortable and predicted they would agree on many local issues.

“That’s news to me. We did not have that particular discussion,” Heller told Roll Call when asked about the agreement. “If you’re asking if there’s a [nonaggression pact], that is not happening.”

However, the senior Democratic Senate aide stood by the contention that the Majority Leader and his newly installed GOP colleague had agreed to refrain from criticizing each other, either publicly or privately. It is the same understanding Reid has reached with every Republican he has served with since advancing to the Senate in 1987 — beginning with Paul Laxalt — the aide explained. Such an agreement, this aide said, allows for fundraising and campaigning but precludes nasty rhetoric.

Per Senate tradition, Reid walked Heller down the aisle at his swearing-in ceremony on the floor. The former 2nd district Congressman said the Majority Leader has been helpful in aiding his transition from the House and has been open with advice on how to succeed as a Senator. In a statement provided to Roll Call, Reid was complimentary of Heller.

“I welcome Dean Heller to the United States Senate,” he said. “As Dean transitions from representing a single district to the entire state, I look forward to working with him to make the tough choices that will help our state and our citizens recover.”

What appears clear is that this early spat has everything to do with Nevada politics and the 2012 Senate race.

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