Santini, former Reid opponent, backs senator

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign on Thursday touted a new high-profile addition to his "Republicans for Reid" list: former Rep. Jim Santini, who spent his political career as a Democrat until he made a last-minute switch to the GOP so he could run against Reid in 1986.

Now Santini is a lobbyist in Washington representing tourism-related interests that might need support from the Democratic Senate majority leader.

Santini lost to Reid partly because the freshly minted Republican was seen as a political opportunist. At the time, then-President Ronald Reagan came to Las Vegas to defend Santini’s party-switching and to back him in a speech that echoes many of the 2010 election year themes.

Speaking at the Las Vegas Hilton on June 25, 1986, Reagan said he needed Republicans to keep pushing his economic agenda such as the major 1981 income tax cuts that Santini backed.

"Without a Republican Senate, we would never have been able to accomplish what we have," Reagan said. "So, don’t let anyone forget, when the people of Nevada vote this November, they will be selecting the best person to represent them. For that reason alone, Santini is the one.

"But they also will be determining whether the big spenders and big taxers retake the reins of power in the United States Senate," Reagan added.

A congressman at the time, Reid won, launching his Senate career that’s now in danger as he faces Republican challenger Sharron Angle in a dead-heat race.

Angle’s campaign is focused on opposing Reid and the Democrats’ growing federal spending and government expansion that she argues has made the recession deeper. She and other Republicans are pushing Reagan-style proposals to cut taxes and regulations to spur the private economy to create jobs.

Reid counters that Nevada’s record-high unemployment rate of 14.3 percent would be even worse without the massive stimulus spending and bailouts that saved businesses from failing.

In backing Reid now, Santini focused on Angle’s support for developing Yucca Mountain as a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility to create jobs. As a congressman from 1975 to 1983, Santini said he fought against a federal proposal to store the nation’s nuclear waste on the site, which is about 100 miles from Las Vegas. Reid took up the anti-Yucca Mountain battle.

"Thank goodness Harry Reid was able to pick up that torch and leverage his position as majority leader to ensure Yucca Mountain never sees the light of day," Santini said in a statement put out by the Reid campaign.

The Reid team said its "Republicans for Reid" list is now 225 members long.

Contact Laura Myers at or 702-387-2919.

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