Longtime GOP lawmaker Raggio 'reluctantly' endorses Harry Reid

State Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, the dean of Nevada's moderate Republicans, on Thursday endorsed U.S. Sen. Harry Reid for re-election, but it wasn't a warm embrace.

Raggio said he's not happy with the Democratic incumbent and told him so.

"He must vote more strongly to represent the views of his Nevada constituency in the future rather than a liberal agenda which many feel drifts toward Socialism in America," Raggio said in a harsh two-page statement. "With that caveat, I will reluctantly vote for Senator Reid's re-election."

Raggio's endorsement was no surprise since he and Angle have clashed since 2003, when he pushed through a record $830 million tax increase that Angle, then a Reno assemblywoman, tried to block. He also nearly lost his 2008 GOP primary to Angle, who later joined an effort to recall him.

But the endorsement from Nevada's longest-serving senator highlights the rift between the moderate GOP wing and conservatives such as Angle, on the rise thanks to the Tea Party movement and opposition to big government programs. Raggio had backed Angle's top GOP primary rival, Sue Lowden, an establishment Republican like him.

Raggio, 83, said he was "willing to put behind" him his personal differences with Angle, who never called to congratulate him on his victory in 2008 -- or to apologize for her campaign attacks on him -- and who didn't ask for his endorsement in the U.S. Senate race.

But he said he couldn't set aside his concern about Angle's record, calling her "totally ineffective" as an assemblywoman. Angle often voted "no" against her own party, especially on raising taxes and spending. Raggio also said he doesn't agree with what he called her "extreme positions" on issues such as Medicare, Social Security and education as she calls for a smaller federal government.

In the end, Raggio said he didn't think Angle would serve Nevada well in Washington, D.C.

"We need someone in the U.S. Senate who can be effective, work with others, and best represent the interests of our State ," he said.

After trashing Angle, Raggio had plenty of harsh words for President Barack Obama and Reid, who as Senate majority leader is responsible for ensuring that the president's agenda passes.

"I oppose almost all of the Obama agenda," he said. "The next Congress will need to make changes, certainly in the health care bill and with bailouts which undermine the concept of free enterprise."

Raggio has served in the state Senate since 1972. Because of a recent term-limit law, the upcoming legislative session will be his last, since the citizen Legislature meets once every two years.

Angle dismissed Raggio's endorsement of Reid, which could sway some Republicans but also could shore up her outsider status with nonpartisan voters fed up with the political parties.

"It's refreshing to have the light shed on those who are finally willing to expose who they really are in a desperate attempt to help keep the churn turning for liberal big-government beliefs," Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy said in a statement. "We know that many good ol' boy career politicians do not believe in Republican principles, but instead are more apt to align themselves closer with the liberal policies promoted by Senator Harry Reid."

Stacy added that Angle never expected Raggio's backing because he has spent his career "promoting billions in new taxes and higher spending on the backs of hard-working Nevadans."

Reid has worked to add influential political and business leaders to his 200-strong "Republicans for Reid" list to highlight both his power and his ability to attract support beyond Democrats.

"I am honored to have the support of Senator Bill Raggio, a man I deeply respect not only for his commitment to public service, but his love for this state," Reid said in a statement. "Senator Raggio's strength as a leader stems from his fierce advocacy for northern Nevada and his willingness to get things done regardless of which party occupies the governor's mansion or controls the state legislature ."

With early voting starting in a week on Oct. 16, the race remains tight.

A poll released Thursday by Rasmussen Reports showed Angle with a 4 percentage point advantage over Reid, with 50 percent support compared with his 46 percent. The survey of 750 likely Nevada voters was conducted Tuesday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

As Reid fights to take the lead, former President Bill Clinton is returning to Las Vegas on Tuesday to rally the Democratic Party base, hoping to counter an anti-incumbent trend.

The invitation-only event will be held at 8:45 p.m. at the gym inside Valley High School.

The Reid-Angle race also has been taking nastier turns as both candidates, who are highly unpopular according to the polls, reach for any tool with which to bludgeon one another.

On Thursday, the Reid campaign denounced Angle for her association with a Reno pastor who called Reid's Mormon religion a "cult" and accused its members of having "kooky" practices.

"The Christian community -- all the Christians, theologians and scholars -- all recognize that Mormonism is a cult. I have books in my library on cults, and it lists Mormonism right there with all these bizarre cults," said the Rev. John Reed of Sonrise Church in Reno, according to a story in the Reno News and Review by longtime Northern Nevada journalist Dennis Myers.

The pastor noted that Mormons wear special garments under their clothes and are baptized for the dead, saying, "Isn't that kooky?" according to the story posted Thursday.

Myers noted Angle is no longer a member of the church and shouldn't be held to account for Reed's remarks any more than Obama should be for controversial statements his Chicago pastor said.

"Pastor Reed, of course, does not speak for Angle any more than Barack Obama is responsible for Jeremiah Wright's pronouncements," Myers wrote, referring to the 2008 campaign controversy.

The Angle campaign tried to distance her from Reed, saying she disagrees with him. The Southern Baptist candidate has been a member of a different church, the Fellowship Community Church in Reno, for several years.

"As a Christian, Sharron shares the same values with other active Christians, including those of the Latter-day Saints community," Angle spokesman Jarrod Agen said in an e-mail. "Sharron has the utmost respect for followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she strongly disavows any disparaging remarks against them.

"Sharron has not been a member of this other church for over six years, and her former pastor in no way speaks for Sharron," Agen added. "Sharron believes that all citizens have a right to worship freely and practice their faith without persecution, discrimination, and ridicule."

Mormons are a key voting bloc in Nevada, but Reid has been losing some support from the more staunch church members who believe he has not done enough for conservative causes.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.