Reid Shows Aces

Posted October 21, 2003 at 6:10pm

One’s a flamboyant tennis star whose endorsement deals and off-the-court social life have made him a household name. The other’s a quiet, wonkish, mild-mannered, no-endorsement future Hall of Fame pitcher.

But Andre Agassi and Greg Maddux, both native Las Vegans, have a common bond in Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), their longtime friend who is running for re-election next year. While Republicans haven’t yet found a top challenger to Reid, Agassi and Maddux aren’t taking their chances.

The career Grand Slam winner in tennis and the four-time winner of baseball’s Cy Young award are both lending a hand to Reid’s political operation this fall.

Agassi recently penned a direct-mail pitch that Reid’s campaign sent out to thousands of supporters, a first-of-its-kind letter for Agassi. “What I always admired was Harry’s quiet decency and limitless kindness,” Agassi wrote. “But I soon saw something else behind that gentle demeanor: a man absolutely driven to fight for those who need him.”

And Maddux is in the process of working with Reid’s campaign to set up some fundraising work for the pitcher, most likely a letter like Agassi did or being a featured speaker at a dinner in Las Vegas.

Politicians have for years used celebrities, particularly entertainers, to help raise money for their campaigns. But Agassi and Maddux are both neophytes in the political world, and Reid is hoping for more than just cash raised from two superstars lending a hand. He’s also relying on the cache of the two home-grown athletes who still live in Nevada endorsing him for a fourth term.

“He’s the only politician Andre’s ever gone to a rally for,” said Perry Rogers, the star’s lawyer and president of Andre Agassi Enterprises Inc., the venture that runs his business deals and helps oversee his charity work.

Agassi has written only a dozen checks to federal candidates or committees in the past five years, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.com. Rogers declined to comment on Agassi’s political leanings, other than to say he thinks Agassi is registered as an independent. But his political contributions show a slightly leftward tilt, with the prime focus on Nevada politicians.

Out of $34,000 given to federal candidates since 1999, Agassi has given $29,000 to Democrats and $5,000 to the leadership political action committee run by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). In addition to $20,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and a joint fundraising committee between the DSCC and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Agassi gave $1,000 to the 2000 campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and $1,000 to the 2000 presidential campaign of then-Vice President Al Gore.

A search of contributions to federal candidates in the past seven years comes up empty for any Maddux donations.

Rogers has been a friend of the Reid family since he was 11 and has known Agassi since he was 12, providing the connection for the tennis player and the Senator to meet.

While Reid and Agassi have known each other since the late 1980s — he once lauded the tennis star on the Senate floor after Agassi captured the 1999 French Open, completing the career Grand Slam — their bond has grown strongest the past few years as Reid has helped the tennis star with a foundation in Las Vegas.

The foundation raised $12.6 million earlier this month at a Las Vegas fundraiser featuring performers including Sheryl Crow and Billy Joel. The event was held the day after Agassi’s second child with Steffi Graf, a former tennis great herself, was born. The foundation provided funding to help build a Boys and Girls Club and a medical center for abused women and children.

And it’s now in its second year of running Agassi Prep, a charter school for children of single parents that amounts to a $70 million project. Reid has helped secure federal funding for all three projects that Agassi’s foundation got off the ground.

Agassi has also had a longtime fondness for Washington, including The Tombs restaurant and bar in Georgetown, which he usually visits each summer when he comes to the District to play in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Agassi even has a lobbyist working pro bono for the foundation: Larry Grossman, the former Cassidy & Associates appropriations point man who left the firm earlier this year to start his own company.

Rogers indicated that the fundraising letter was just a first step in Agassi’s help for Reid. “Andre’s commitment to the Senator is going to go throughout his career,” he said.

Ensign, who lost to Reid in 1998 by 428 votes before winning his seat in 2000, said the fundraising work by Agassi and Maddux is just the latest indication of how serious Reid is taking this election, even though no top-tier challenger has materialized. As of Sept. 30, Reid had $3.7 million in his campaign account.

“That’s a lot of dough — he’s going to raise his $10 million,” said Ensign, who has grown close to Reid in the past three years. “He took me lightly in ’98. He’s not doing that again. He’s prepared. He’s preparing like he’s running against me again.”

While Agassi is quite a bit more flashy than the plain-spoken Reid — the tennis star was married to Brooke Shields and dated Barbra Streisand — Maddux has the quiet demeanor more closely resembling the Senator. Not a fastball pitcher, Maddux has used incredible control to rack up a slew of pitching records, the most recent being his 16th straight season with at least 15 wins, a feat for which Reid took to the Senate floor Sept. 25 to honor Maddux.

“Maddux is an unsurpassed student of the game who relies on his pinpoint control and his unyielding determination. He never gives in to hitters. … Greg doesn’t endorse commercial products, and he has no interest in the glamorous life of a celebrity. Instead, he and his family live quietly, giving generously of their time and money for causes that benefit our community,” Reid said.

After setting the record for consecutive 15-win seasons, Maddux finished off the regular season for the Atlanta Braves in Philadelphia against the Phillies, and Reid made the trek up Interstate 95 to be on hand for the three-game series.

Like Agassi, Maddux has started a foundation that helps at-risk children in both Las Vegas and Atlanta. Reid has also worked with that foundation.

Rogers, who also knows Maddux, said that outwardly Agassi, Maddux and Reid might appear to be very different people but that they all still have the small-town mentality from Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s, before the the massive expansion that turned Clark County into 1.6 million-person metropolis.

“It’s still a relatively small town,” Rogers said. “Andre is a very, very straightforward athlete. In Las Vegas, our town, your word is your bond.”