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Reid has ups, downs with online liberals

Harry Reid’s stock with the net-roots keeps fluctuating. This week, it’s way down.

The Senate majority leader last week voted in favor of a bill to fund the Iraq war without a troop-withdrawal timeline, a vote left-wing online activists saw as a betrayal. In return, MoveOn.org urged its followers to send the Nevada Democrat tea bags.

The gift was a riff on Reid’s own words. Earlier in the week, he had ridiculed a proposal similar to the one that passed as "very weak, a cup of tea that’s been sitting on the counter for a few weeks."

Thus, the group decided, Reid should get some "weak tea" in the mail.

Las Vegan Donna West said she had put her tea bag in the mail Friday.

"I just feel like Harry caved," she said. "He’s the one who said a bill without an exit strategy is weak tea. But not only did he let this vote go through in the Senate, he voted for it."

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said no tea bags had yet been received Friday.

"Senator Reid shares their frustration with the current course in Iraq," Summers said of the activists. "While this bill does not go as far as a bipartisan majority of Congress would like, it goes a lot further than the president and his supporters were willing to go earlier this month."

As minority leader in 2005, Reid became a hero to liberal activists when he used a procedural move to close the Senate to force an inquiry into prewar intelligence.

According to polls by liberal superblog DailyKos, Reid’s approval among the net-roots soared after the 2006 election that made him majority leader, to 80 percent.

Reid stumbled in the net-roots’ eyes earlier this year when he supported a Democratic presidential debate in Nevada to be broadcast on Fox News. But the debate was canceled and all was well.

In April, as Reid was championing Senate Democrats’ push for troop withdrawal, Kos readers loved him, to the tune of 88 percent approval.

By Friday, that number had plummeted to 31 percent.

GOP TRAILS IN MONEY RACE

The national Republican campaign committee led by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., continues to be outperformed by its Democratic counterpart.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $2.1 million in April, half of the $4.6 million harvested by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to reports at the Federal Election Commission.

So far this year, the Republican committee has raised $9.1 million at a pace that would fall short of the $118 million goal that Ensign set for the two-year cycle leading to Election Day 2008.

Democrats, continuing to enjoy the fruits of election victories in November, have raised $18 million for their Senate candidates so far.

Two years ago at this time, the Republican committee headed by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., had raised $13.6 million. But losses last fall and the GOP’s minority status have made fundraising more difficult, Ensign has said.

One positive note is that the Republican committee has retired all its debts.

"I am not a defeatist. I am an optimist," Ensign said when asked about the numbers. "We are going to work hard, do the right things. And the bottom line is I’ll be judged on wins and losses."

Meanwhile, despite the lagging fundraising, top aides that Ensign hired from Nevada to run the NRSC are being paid almost double what their Democratic counterparts earn, Congressional Quarterly reported.

Executive Director Scott Bensing, formerly Ensign’s Senate chief of staff, is earning at a rate that adds up to roughly $227,000 a year after deductions, according to FEC reports that CQ analyzed.

Mike Slanker, the Las Vegas political consultant who is the NRSC’s political director, takes home about $15,980 a month, while his wife, Lindsey Slanker, the finance director, is paid at a rate of about $10,774 monthly, CQ reported. The Slankers collected another $35,000 in consulting fees, the publication said.

The executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee makes a little more than $114,000, CQ reported. The Democrats’ political and finance directors also make substantially less than the Republicans in corresponding jobs.

Ensign told CQ his hires were top talent, and "we pay good people." Ensign takes no salary as the committee chairman. He is paid $168,000 as a senator.

POLITICAL PARTNERS

Searching anew for a candidate to run for Congress against Republican Jon Porter, Democrats are talking to Dr. Larry Lehrner, a Las Vegas nephrologist whose wife is Rep. Shelley Berkley.

"We have been talking to several people, and he is a name who has come up," Nevada party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said in confirming an item first reported by pundit Jon Ralston.

"I think we are interested," Searer said. "He has a very good profile. He is a doctor, a successful businessman, a veteran."

Lehrner is a Republican-turned-Democrat who previously lived in Henderson, in the 3rd Congressional District that Porter represents. He and Berkley married in 1999 and live in northwest Las Vegas. Members of Congress don’t have to live in their districts.

A Senate librarian who researched the issue on Friday could not find an instance of someone running for Congress whose spouse represented an adjoining district.

Lehrner could not be reached for comment on Friday. Berkley declined to comment, preferring to let Lehrner speak on his political pursuits, spokesman David Cherry said.

At least one other married couple has served in Congress in recent memory. Republicans Bill Paxon of upstate New York and Susan Molinari of Staten Island were already House members when they wed in 1994.

Stephens Washington Bureau writers Tony Batt and Fred Love contributed to this report. Contact political reporter Molly Ball at 387-2919 or MBall@reviewjournal.com.

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