Former Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. has endorsed Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, saying it would be a mistake for Nevadans to elect Republican Sharron Angle and lose Reid's clout to protect the state's lifeblood gambling industry.
Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, suggested Angle should distance herself from the anti-gambling Campaign for Working Families, which has endorsed her and begun running television advertisements attacking Reid.
The political action committee's founder and chairman is Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate affiliated with several Christian right groups over the years.
"It's disturbing that she (Angle) is taking money from people who oppose gambling," Fahrenkopf told The Associated Press. "She may not even know it, but Gary Bauer has been a longtime, outspoken opponent of legalized gambling. I did a double-take when I read she was receiving assistance from someone who has opposed Nevada's chief industry for so long."
Fahrenkopf, who was raised in Reno and served as both Nevada and national GOP chairman under President Ronald Reagan, said he was speaking for himself and not the association, which doesn't endorse candidates. Fahrenkopf said Reid is the only Democrat he has endorsed in a major race and he has contributed $1,500 to his campaign.
The Angle campaign did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Billing itself as pro-life and pro-free enterprise, Bauer's PAC last week launched the $1-million-plus TV ad campaign against Reid and nine other Democratic congressional candidates. Its ad criticizes President Barack Obama's handling of the economy and notes Reid has voted with Obama 95 percent of the time.
"It's true that Gary is a long-time opponent of gambling and he has concerns about its effects on people," said Kristi Hamrick, the PAC's president. "But Harry Reid is the issue. He's Obama's enabler in chief in Congress."
Fahrenkopf said Nevadans need Reid's power to protect an industry that has been hard bit by the recession and likely will be tapped as a revenue source to deal with the budget deficit. Reid is the most knowledgeable member of Congress about gambling issues, Fahrenkopf said, and has the ability to control what bills reach the floor for votes as Senate majority leader.
The leisure and hospitality industry, which includes hotel-casinos, is Nevada's largest employer, accounting for 304,300 jobs statewide.
"We just can't take any more assaults on us tax-wise or otherwise," Fahrenkopf said. "We need someone strong to protect the state and the industry. No freshman senator would have clout. To trade the most powerful position in the Senate for a freshman senator doesn't make sense."
MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren, a Republican, agreed.
"For a small state like Nevada to have the most powerful person in the Senate is not something we should be willing to let go," he said in a statement. "Simply put: Harry Reid is a better choice for Nevada's future. He has far more experience and can wield far more authority and influence on our behalf than any freshman senator."
While most Nevada gambling moguls probably support Reid, a notable exception is Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Adelson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fahrenkopf and Murren are the latest prominent Republicans to speak out publicly for Reid. Others have included veteran state Sen. Bill Raggio, Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, Sparks Mayor Geno Martini and former Nevada first lady Dema Guinn.