A Maker’s Mark bourbon on ice in hand, Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Beers casually circulates in the bar at the Angel Park Golf Club in Summerlin, a largely upscale planned community.
He greets old friends with handshakes and hugs and asks new acquaintances a few get-to-know-you questions, such as, “What do you do for a living?” He listens, nods and, after a brief chat, moves on.
Loud, live music streams into the bar through open doors from an outside seating area, where a stiff breeze whips away some patrons’ napkins. The warm glow of sunset begins to wash over the partylike scene.
It’s “Beer with Beers” night, an event the councilman holds periodically to hear directly from his Las Vegas constituents.
A former Nevada legislator, serving both in the Assembly and state Senate, Beers won a special election in 2012 to fill a vacant council seat, and was returned in 2013 to what he calls “the funnest job that I’ve had.” He likes dealing with people directly, he said, and having a more immediate impact than he did in Carson City.
The Republican once had larger ambitions. He ran for governor in 2006, losing a crowded GOP primary to Jim Gibbons.
When Beers was turned out of his state Senate seat in 2008 as a Democratic wave washed over GOP candidates, he gave up politics — or so he thought.
Now, his political aspirations are again growing — or at least those of supporters he says have talked him into running against U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2016.
Beers, 54, announced his campaign early, at the end of January, after his backers raised $30,000 to $40,000 to print 55,000 pamphlets promoting his bid to unseat Reid.
He doesn’t often mention his Senate campaign, but wears a pin on his right lapel announcing his intentions: “Beers for U.S. Senate,” it says, underlined. On the bottom half it says, “Bob Beers” in case there’s any confusion.
“I announced early because I decided,” he said last week. “And I don’t hold secrets.”
Besides, if he loses, he can still run for re-election to his City Council seat in 2017.
Asked if he would step aside if Sandoval or U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., decides to run against Reid, Beers hesitates.
“Any question you ask me now would be premature,” he finally said. “I don’t think Sandoval is going to run. I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get to it.”
For now, Beers’ campaign is more like a stroll than a run for higher office.
Nobody is paying attention to a campaign that’s two election cycles away. He’s not holding fundraisers, although he hopes people start donating to his campaign so he can build a war chest. He’ll need it to beat the megafundraiser Reid, who spent nearly $26 million to win re-election in 2010 against Republican Sharron Angle, a Tea Party favorite who spent $28 million.
“He’s going to have more money and he’s going to tell people not to give me money,” Beers said in February.
Beers likes to joke that he got an early start to intimidate Reid, who at age 74 is the most powerful politician in Nevada and in Congress.
“I’m going to scare Harry Reid out,” Beers said.
Turning serious, Beers, a professional accountant who deeply understands budgets, said he decided the U.S. government’s credit card is maxed out and he’s the man to stop runaway spending.
“You can’t continue borrowing like that,” Beers said of the U.S. debt, now about $17.5 trillion and rising.
Beers said Reid now represents his liberal Democratic caucus, not Nevada.
“I think that’s what’s happened to Sen. Reid,” Beers said. “I don’t think he even represents the Democrats outside of the coasts. They don’t think the same as the rest of the country.”
It’s unusual to launch a U.S. Senate campaign so early, although Barack Obama took the same tack when he first ran for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, winning the 1996 election, said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report.
“There are three reasons to start early: build name recognition, at least among party activists; raise money; and claim to be the first in line,” Duffy said. “Beers is right. He will need a small fortune to compete with Reid. … As for being first in line for the nomination, it is often tried and only works sometimes.”
“My guess is that a stronger candidate gets in the race because the nomination is worth having,” Duffy added.
Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, agreed. He said Beers “is a quality candidate, but he’s not a candidate who’s going to chase out other Republicans.”
Herzik also questioned whether Beers has the internal drive needed for such a challenging, high-profile campaign. During Beers’ legislative career, from 1999 to 2009, he was a larger-than-life “fireball thrower,” Herzik said.
“Bob Beers was a bull in a china shop, both physically and rhetorically,” Herzik said. “He’s a slimmed down, toned down Bob Beers from where he was a decade ago. Does that reflect a mellowing or a lack of fire in the belly? I don’t know.”
As example, in 2003 Assemblyman Beers led the GOP minority fight to block a proposed $1 billion gross receipts tax on business by moderate GOP Gov. Kenny Guinn. He was part of the “Mean 15” Assembly Republicans who refused to back the tax. Nevada’s largest attempted tax hike ultimately failed after a court battle and two special sessions of the Legislature.
Beers has since simmered down, at times being one of the Las Vegas City Council’s quietest members even on controversial issues such as allowing medical marijuana facilities within city limits. Without comment he voted with the 5-2 majority in mid-March.
He’s also slimmed down.
Beers was overweight and began taking insulin for Type 2 diabetes at age 50. After lap band surgery to make his stomach smaller, he lost 80 pounds — and the need to take insulin shots, he said. At 6 feet, 2 inches, he now weighs 206 pounds.
“I can’t drink carbonated drinks anymore,” Beers said, explaining why he wasn’t sipping a beer at his constituent get-together. “The surgery had an immediate effect. I stopped shooting insulin right away.”
Asked if he thinks he can beat Reid, Beers delivers a verbal shrug: “I’ve had a pretty good reception so far.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell when Beers is being serious or joking because of his dry sense of humor.
His sarcastic sensibility comes through on the blog he writes on a range of topics, including the Bureau of Land Management standoff with Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing his cattle on public land while refusing to pay $1 million in back grazing fees and fines.
Beers said the heart of the matter is the decline of the desert tortoise, which has caused the BLM to reduce the amount of public grazing land available. But he blamed the raven, a tortoise predator the government started protecting in 1971 even though it was never endangered.
“With the extra protection of Uncle Sam, populations skyrocketed,” he wrote. “Of course, so did raven predation on the tortoise. I feel the Bundys’ frustration.”
Beers suggested the BLM forget armed removal of Bundy’s herd and instead slap a lien on Bundy’s bank account, “just like the IRS does” for scofflaws.
Meanwhile, he discounted advocates who want to ban all cows.
“There’s a group that wants to remove cattle from the range so as to return the range to its “natural” state,” Beers wrote. “I am not compelled by that argument, as its immediately prior state had it grazed by large herds of wild buffalo, elk, deer and other grazing herbivores that would be hard to find today.”
Reid recently called Bundy supporters “domestic terrorists” because some armed militia members rallied to his cause, prompting the BLM to halt the roundup and release the cattle to avoid violence.
Asked about Reid’s comments, Beers said, “I think domestic terrorism is what Congress is doing to our dollars.”
At the left top of his blog, Beers makes only a sly reference to his Senate campaign.
“Just growing Searchlight’s population by two,” he writes. That would be Reid and wife, Landra, if the senator loses in November 2016 and the couple moves back to the dusty mining town where Reid grew up and maintains a residence.
On the sidelines of his “Beer with Beers” event, the councilman said he believes Reid is more vulnerable than ever, vowing to run for a sixth term in the Senate as his party is in danger of losing the majority in November. Reid could lose some of the power he has enjoyed as majority leader since 2007.
Reminded that Reid, a former boxer, is known as a rough-and-tumble campaigner who will use every political weapon against his foes, Beers quipped, “I’ve been hit by the best. He’s out of his weight class.”
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.