Dems scouting Nevada Senate landscape

The national Democratic party is dispatching a top operative to Nevada this week as it prepares to go on the offense in the state’s upcoming U.S. Senate race.

Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is meeting with state officials who have been mentioned as possible candidates and grass-roots organizations. Sources confirmed the development reported by Politico.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., has said she is considering running. Cecil is meeting individually with Secretary of State Ross Miller, Treasurer Kate Marshall and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who sit on what Dems consider to be the party’s deep Nevada bench.

DSCC communications director Eric Schultz declined to talk about staff travel. But he said Nevada "is a top pickup opportunity. We have complete confidence we will have a top tier candidate and we will make sure we allocate resources to Nevada to take back that seat."

The trip is further evidence the Democrats believe Nevada will be a prime Senate battleground, and one of the places it has a chance to play offense in the 2012 cycle. Incumbent Republican Sen. John Ensign, the subject of a Senate ethics investigation, is on the outs with his party and may be in for a bruising primary fight with Rep. Dean Heller.

Democratic officials have said they believe Berkley will not be challenged in a primary if she decides to run, but they want to have a Plan B in hand if she chooses to remain in the U.S. House.

Berkley is embarking on polling to weigh her standing, and has said she may decide a Senate candidacy by this summer. Heller, who also has yet to declare candidacy, last week released polling that shows him with a double-digit lead over Ensign in a head-to-head matchup and prevailing in a crowded primary field as well.

According to a strategist, Democrats are starting to gather research on Ensign and Heller for possible attacks and will assign trackers to follow both Republicans in search of further ammunition.

Democrats also are looking to tend to what one called the "now-legendary Harry Reid field organizing infrastructure." The Nevada senator won re-election last year on the strength of what political operatives have called the most sophisticated campaign organization and get-out-the-vote operation.

Democrats are defending 23 Senate seats in the 2012 elections, compared to only 10 for Republicans. But Nevada may shape into the Democrats’ best chance to grab a seat.

Republican spokesman Brian Walsh told Politico he doubts Democrats can afford to go all-out in Nevada considering the large number of other seats it has in play.

“The Democrats are already defending 23 seats in places like Montana, Missouri and Virginia,” said Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “It’s unclear even if someone like a Shelley Berkley were to get in the race if national Democrats will have the resources to go on offense.”

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