Heller fundraiser pulls in $125,000

Rep. Dean Heller raised $125,000 Monday night for his U.S. Senate campaign at a Las Vegas event organized by top GOP players.

Some 75 people attended the dinner at Panevino Ristorante, paying at least $1,000 each.

The fresh funds came in just days before the March 31 end of a fundraising quarter and as Heller put out an email plea to donors.

In the Monday missive, Heller said people will be watching "like hawks" to see how much money he has raised as a test of his strength as a candidate.

Heller only formally announced he would run for retiring Sen. John Ensign's seat a couple weeks ago. He was quickly endorsed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and the Republican establishment jumped to promote him as the chosen pick.

Sands Corp. chief Sheldon Adelson sponsored the fundraiser for Heller along with former Gov. Bob List and Dema Guinn, wife of the late Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Heller will need a big warchest for what's expected to be a highly competitive general election campaign as the Democrats target the Senate seat for a takeover. He's not likely to have any serious opposition in the GOP primary.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., is widely expected to jump into the Senate race after polling and conducting focus groups of Nevadans to ensure she has a path to victory. The popular Berkley would be taking a risk by giving up a safe House seat to run after seven terms in office.

Berkley is a talented campaigner and proven fundraiser. Her biggest challenge is making inroads with voters in Northern Nevada where she's not as well known beyond her Las Vegas base. Heller has the opposite problem, although his mostly northern and rural congressional district does include parts of Clark County. Also, he has successfully run statewide for secretary of state.