Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn't on the ballot in 2012. But the fate of his leadership position in Washington and his influence in Nevada politics are.
In recent months, Reid has begun trying to muscle favored Nevada Democratic primary candidate, Rep. Shelley Berkley, past multimillionaire Las Vegas businessman Byron Georgiou (D), while also attempting to chill D.C. political action committees and lobbyists from donating to the likely Republican nominee, appointed Sen. Dean Heller.
Washington, D.C., PACs usually support incumbent Senators and decline to contribute to challengers, regardless of political party. But according to a Republican lobbyist whose firm has relationships on both sides of the aisle, Reid is urging Washington's money people to treat the Nevada race as an open contest given that Heller was appointed, telling the downtown community that this campaign could determine whether he remains Majority Leader.
"Many PACs are not including Heller in their giving," this lobbyist said.
Reid and Georgiou haven't always been enemies. Georgiou has been a major donor to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which also has endorsed Berkley, and was previously appointed by Reid to serve on the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. But their relationship has since soured, with Reid moving deliberately in Nevada to make sure Democrats know Berkley is his candidate.
And on Tuesday, Reid accused Georgiou at a Capitol Hill news conference of being less than truthful with the Majority Leader about his business background when he appointed the Democratic activist to the FCIC. Additionally, news reports have suggested Georgiou might have acted unethically during his tenure at the FCIC. Regarding his appointment of Georgiou to the commission, Reid said pointedly, "I wish I hadn't done that."
One Democratic Senate source confirmed that Reid views Georgiou as a fatally flawed candidate and that the Majority Leader is intent on doing whatever is necessary to ensure Berkley's victory in the primary. Other sources following the race have suggested that Reid was influenced to back Berkley by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, a Berkley adviser who helped guide Reid through a tough 2010 re-election bid and is highly respected by the Majority Leader.
"He thinks she is the strongest candidate to create jobs, protect Medicare and represent the people of Nevada in the Senate," a senior aide to Reid said.
The DSCC has also endorsed Berkley, and committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) said Reid's backing of the Congresswoman is significant. "Sen. Reid is well-known, he just won a great race and obviously his voice carries," she said during a brief interview.
Georgiou, responding in a prepared statement, charged Reid and other "Washington insiders" with making false accusations about his background and service on the FCIC in an effort to scare him out of the race. The businessman said it would not work and vowed to continue his campaign.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.