Friday, Dec. 11, 1998 | 11:31 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- The old saying that politics makes strange bedfellows may have been played out in the re-election campaign of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Reid and Nevada's former Republican U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, one-time arch political enemies, are now friends. Laxalt may even have been a silent ally of Reid in his campaign against Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev.
"He (Laxalt) could not openly support me but I'm confident he didn't do anything to hurt me," Reid said Thursday. Reid added that the two have "developed a close relationship."
Laxalt defeated Reid in 1974 for the Senate by 624 votes in a campaign that was marked by bitter exchanges. Reid asked for a recount, which reduced the margin to 611 votes.
In the Senate, Laxalt rose in the Republican Party power structure and then left public life to run a law office-lobbying business in Washington, D.C.
On Nov. 4, the day after the election, Reid said Laxalt called to congratulate him and they talked about the close elections they have been in. Each have been in two races that are among the top 10 closest in state history.
Asked why Laxalt might be supporting him, Reid said that question should be directed at Laxalt. Laxalt could not be reached for comment but his aide, Tom Loranger, said Laxalt "stayed out of the race."
Laxalt's brother and former close administration officials openly supported Reid with donations. The former Laxalt clique held a fund-raising event for Reid in Las Vegas.
"One of the warmest moments of my life came when I saw a Laxalt check come through," Reid said, referring to the $1,000 donation from John Laxalt, a Las Vegas lawyer and brother of the former senator.
A Republican source said Reid "has been very helpful" to Laxalt and Edward Allison in their lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. And that was the reason for the Las Vegas fund-raiser.
Loranger refused to answer if Laxalt had asked for any favors from Reid in lobbying.
According to Reid, those attending the fund-raiser included Allison, former press secretary to Laxalt; Wayne Pearson, a former member of the state Gaming Control Board during the Laxalt Administration, and Jerry Dondero, who was chief of staff for Laxalt while he was governor. Also present was Tom Bell, a Las Vegas lawyer who was an associate of Laxalt during the days of his governorship.
Loranger said reports Laxalt was at the Las Vegas event are untrue. He said the two "are friendly but that didn't translate into helping Reid." Asked if he supported his party nominee, Republican Rep. John Ensign, Loranger repeated that Laxalt, who is a Virginia resident, "stayed out of the race."
Campaign finance reports show that Allison and his wife, JoAnne, each contributed $500. Allison, close to Laxalt through the years, has his own consulting business with offices in Reno and Washington, D.C. In past years, he lobbied the Nevada Legislature on behalf of the nuclear industry, which supports Yucca Mountain.
Pearson, who was a Republican pollster, donated $1,000 to Reid and his wife, Jerrie, also gave $1,000. Patty Dondero, wife of Jerry Dondero, contributed $1,000. Dondero is in private business in Las Vegas. Bell gave $500.
"It's been no secret that Harry has been romancing the Laxalt people and picking them off year by year," Pearson said. He said Laxalt's former aides, Ashley Hall and Ace Robinson, both worked openly for Reid.
He said he was surprised the switch is just now coming to light. "Paul played it straight down the middle and never encouraged any of them to back Reid," Pearson said. He only laughed when asked why Laxalt did not support Ensign.
Asked if this isn't strange with so many backers in the Reid campaign, Pearson said, "These things happen in Nevada."
Reflecting on the campaign, Reid told reporters, "This was not a race between John Ensign and Harry Reid." He said it was a "contest between the two parties that spent $12 million in negative advertising." He said the corporate money that is donated to these parties is "corrupting the system."
He said he is going to work to correct the problem in Congress.
Reid won by 401 votes in the first count and that swelled to 428 in the recount requested by Ensign. Of the second tally, Reid said that Republicans "weren't able to show wrongdoing or corruption."
"It was a fair count," Reid said.
The senator said he bears "no ill will" toward Ensign and called him a "good candidate." If Ensign runs again for public office, nobody should underestimate him, Reid said.