Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid said U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons would be the strongest GOP challenger for his seat next year and said the White House and prominent national Republicans are pressuring the four-term congressman to run.
Reid, the Senate’s second-leading Democrat, said Tuesday that he has “no idea” whether Gibbons, R-Reno, will try to unseat him.
Gibbons remains split “50-50” on whether to run, his top aide said.
Reid said he has had a long relationship with Gibbons and his wife.
“I believe, and I’ve said for several months, that I think Gibbons would be the best person they could choose to run against me. He’s the best candidate they could find,” Reid said.
“So that means I’d rather he didn’t run,” Reid said with a laugh.
“I recognize it is not an easy choice for him,” said Reid, who is in his third Senate term. “I recognize the tremendous pressure he is under.”
U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Karl Rove, Bush’s top political adviser, are among those urging Gibbons to run, Reid said.
“I’m sure the president has called him. I’m sure Karl Rove has sat him down and talked to him. I’m sure he’s got tremendous pressure, but he has to ultimately decide what is best for him and the state of Nevada,” he said.
Gibbons, a former combat pilot who is the only member of Congress to serve in Vietnam and Iraq, was traveling in Eastern Europe with other members of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
His chief of staff, Robert Uithoven, denied that President Bush had spoken to Gibbons about challenging Reid.
“There have not been any discussions between Jim and the president on this. There have been some discussions with the White House, either our campaign calling them or them calling the campaign,” Uithoven said.
“They want this to be Jim’s decision, but they’ve indicated their willingness to help if he decides to run,” he said.
Still, Uithoven acknowledged that Gibbons is under “quite a bit of pressure” to run.
“There are prominent national Republicans, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, that are urging him,” he said.
“So, yes, there is a lot of outside pressure, but his consideration is going to be first and foremost what is right for his family and what his fellow Nevadans tell him is the best thing to do for Nevada,” he said. Gibbons has said that he also has been encouraged to run for governor when Gov. Kenny Guinn’s term is up in 2006.
Reid said the popular congressman likely could be re-elected for life in his 2nd District.
Uithoven acknowledged that Gibbons is intrigued by the possibility of replacing retiring U.S. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
“He’s a very senior member of the intelligence committee and in a great position to become the next chairman,” he said.
“He’s also become the vice chairman of the full House Resources Committee, which is huge for Nevada, and is chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counter Terrorism. He really loves that intelligence committee, so he’s not weighting that lightly,” he said.
On Monday, Reid went to great lengths to praise Gibbons in explaining the congressman’s absence at a gathering of politicians and scientists at Lake Tahoe.
“Congressman Gibbons is on an important mission as one of the senior members of the House Intelligence Committee. Certainly, Jim Gibbons is heavily involved in all we do at the lake,” Reid said.
Gibbons’ wife, Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons of Reno, said recently that she will support whatever decision her husband makes but noted the couple’s friendship with Reid and his wife, Landra, could make it a difficult campaign.
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