State’s most powerful politician is in for challenge

Sun, Mar 30, 2014 (2 a.m.)

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Gov. Brian Sandoval, hold a press gathering at the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign to speak about the progress of clean energy investment in Nevada on Thursday, March 20, 2014.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has brought outsize influence to his home state as Congress’ most powerful Democrat for the past seven years. At 74 years old and with two years left in his fifth term in the Senate, the Searchlight native has told congressional reporters he’d like to serve another term — and remain majority leader.

But before he can come within striking distance of that goal, Reid has a few electoral hurdles to clear. The first will be in November, when 21 of 53 Democratic Senate seats will be contested. At least five incumbents will retire.

Just six losses would flip the Senate to Republican control — not an insurmountable challenge for the GOP, which has found political vigor in pillorying Democrats over health care and accusing Reid of trying to aggrandize power and silence the minority.

Assuming Reid can weather that challenge, his next hurdle would be in his own state. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s name has been tossed about as the most likely Republican challenger to Reid. And even if Reid can turn back a challenge from the popular governor, his majority leadership is far from guaranteed.

Who is nipping at Reid’s heels?

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. walks onto the stage holding a rifle before speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference at National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 6, 2014.

• Mitch McConnell: The Republican leader since Reid took over as majority leader has historically had a good working relationship with Reid — not that you’d know it based on how these two fight in public. But McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator, has scored some of his best political victories not by being at odds with Reid, but by using his relationship with Vice President Joe Biden to work his interests into major deals. McConnell more recently has accused Reid of being the problem with Washington.

• John Cornyn: McConnell is in a tough re-election fight, and if he doesn’t return to Washington, it may be Cornyn’s turn to be Reid’s main antagonist. Texas’ senior senator knows the national map after running the Senate GOP campaign strategy in the 2010 season and less-than-stellar 2012 season. The conservative Republican entered the Senate a relative centrist in his party but has over the years adopted a deference to Tea Party elements, who wield some weight in his state.

• John Barrasso: Wyoming’s junior senator is the only leading Republican whose term is guaranteed to last through 2014. He hasn’t been the face of his party, but he has made one issue his signature talking point against Democrats: health care.

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