Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid knows Republicans have put a target on his back, but the Nevada Democrat has braced for what figures to be a tough 2010 re-election run by raising about $2 million in campaign funds since January.
Despite sagging poll numbers in his home state, Mr. Reid recently boasted about raising "quite a bit of money," and said he is "real comfortable that I will be competitive."
Still, he isn't taking any chances. He's revving up his campaign machine more than 18 months before Election Day.
Mr. Reid now has more than $5 million on hand after starting the year with $3.3 million, said a Democratic official familiar with the Reid campaign's first-quarter contribution reports, which are due Monday.
The official did not want to be identified discussing campaign-finance figures not yet made public.
The cash infusion will push his total contributions to $7.6 million for the 2010 re-election race, compared with the $9 million total he raised for the 2004 campaign. Since his 2004 election victory, the Reid campaign committee has given about $1 million to other Democratic candidates and party entities.
Mr. Reid scheduled a meeting with supporters and volunteers in Las Vegas this week to discuss the campaign, which is "already in full swing," according to the Nevada state Democratic Party.
He plans to rally volunteers Tuesday at the Democratic Party Organizing Convention, in Clark County, Nevada. There, party officials say, Mr. Reid intends to retool the Obama grass-roots organization in the state to boost his re-election campaign.
"I think starting early is just being smart, not being cautious," said Sam Lieberman, chairman of the Nevada state Democratic Party. "As much as Republicans would like to target the race, I don't see a credible candidate emerging, and I think Nevadans are very comfortable with Harry Reid. He's done a lot to unify the party."
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), says the party is courting a strong challenger, but he's not saying who that is.
Republicans say Mr. Reid will need an early start and deep pockets this time around.
"On a range of issues, he is to the left of the state," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. Nevada voters "know Harry Reid. They are just saying they don't support him."
The four-term incumbent consistently scores less than a 50 percent job-approval rating in Nevada, which, though then-Sen. Barack Obama carried it in the 2008 presidential elections, is generally more conservative than the Democratic Party national agenda Mr. Reid champions on Capitol Hill.
"There are a lot of folks who are upset with all the spending and what's going on in the federal government," said John Ellison, a longtime member of the Elko County Board of Commissioners in northern Nevada.
Mr. Ellison, a Republican, said Mr. Reid nevertheless has amassed a stockpile of good will during a lifetime of promoting issues important to rural Nevada.
But Mr. Reid's close association with Mr. Obama could backfire, he said, especially if the administration continues such moves as a recent restriction on right-of-way across public lands, cutting off access that is valued in the West for business and recreation.
"A lot of people are really, really upset," Mr. Ellison said. "If [Mr. Obama] keeps pulling stunts like that, it's going to hurt [Mr. Reid]."
Mr. Reid's home-state poll numbers mirror the national ratings for Congress, which had a 52 percent unfavorable rating in a poll this month for the liberal Daily Kos blog.
In January, just weeks after the presidential election, the state's voters split 47 percent to 47 percent on Mr. Reid's performance, according to a poll for the conservative activist group Legacy PAC, which is targeting Mr. Reid for defeat.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the division between the senator and his constituents is wildly exaggerated. He noted that Nevada is trending Democrat, with the party now enjoying a 100,000-voter registration advantage over Republicans. Mr. Obama carried the state in 2008 with 55.1 percent of the vote to 42.7 percent for Sen. John McCain.
At the same time, the voters know Mr. Reid shares their decidedly conservative Western values, Mr. Manley said.
"Senator Reid's views are in sync with Nevada voters," he said. "He is pro-life, pro-gun, [anti-Yucca Mountain nuclear dump] and a strong champion of Nevada veterans and military bases."
Republicans like to compare Mr. Reid to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat defeated in 2004 by Republican John Thune. The Thune campaign succeeded in depicting Mr. Daschle as aligned with the national Democratic Party's liberal agenda and as out of step with South Dakota voters.
But Mr. Thune had the advantage of support from a Republican White House and Republican-led Congress that had yet to fall out of favor with the public.
"Completely ridiculous," Mr. Manley said. "Nevada is a different state. In South Dakota, only 30 percent of the electorate was Democrat. In Nevada, there is now at least 100,000 more Democrats than Republicans."
He concluded: "The GOP doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell."
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