A New York banker with roots in Ely is exploring a run against U.S. Sen. Harry Reid.
John Chachas, a managing director of Lazard Ltd., has been talking to Republican Party bigwigs in Nevada and Washington who are anxious to find a credible challenger to the Senate majority leader, sources said this week.
Chachas declined to comment Thursday on the speculation about his potential candidacy.
Chachas' interest in the race is said to be active but preliminary: He feels strongly that Reid could be felled by a strong opponent and would be willing to step into that role if no other satisfactory candidate does, but he might not make a decision for several months, according to people who have spoken to him and who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity.
Nationally and locally, Republicans are eager to take on Reid. In addition to picking up a seat in the Senate, the toppling of the majority leader would be a huge symbolic blow against the Democrats.
Chachas grew up in Ely, where his family has owned a ranch for a century, and would be able to put his own money into the campaign.
And a Reid opponent probably would attract campaign donations from Republicans around the country.
Reid reported having more than $5 million on hand for his campaign as of the end of March.
Reid's campaign manager, Brandon Hall, said the senator would "be ready to run an aggressive campaign in 2010 no matter who his opponent is."
Hall added, "Senator Reid is going to continue to focus on improving Nevada's economy and getting Nevadans back to work, but he knows he has a campaign to run in 2010. That's why we're starting early raising money and organizing."
Chachas commissioned professional polling in recent months that confirmed what other Nevada polls have shown: that Reid's support back home is relatively weak. A source who had seen the numbers said they showed the senator's favorable rating at 46 percent and his unfavorable rating at 49 percent.
But no clear opponent has yet emerged for the GOP to rally around as they try to take down the most powerful Democrat in the Senate.
Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki has discussed a potential run, but his political hopes were crippled by an indictment on charges he mishandled state funds while serving as state treasurer. He has called the charges politically motivated.
Former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle recently launched an exploration of a bid against Reid. A hard-right conservative from Reno, Angle has lost Republican primaries for Congress and state Senate in the past two elections. She has said she will consider getting in the race if she can raise $100,000 by next month.
Other names that have been mentioned by Nevada Republican insiders include Rep. Dean Heller and state Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden, a former state senator. Neither has actively pursued an interest in the race.
Chachas, 44, moved from Ely in his late teens, graduating from high school in Utah. He attended Columbia University and Harvard Business School. As a partner at Lazard, a large investment bank with offices around the world, he heads the company's Media and Digital Content Group.
He maintains a residence in Ely that he would move back to if he decided to commit to the race, but undoubtedly would have to contend with accusations of carpetbagging, the sources indicated.
Contact reporter Molly Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.