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Rove Discusses Reid in Nevada Meeting

White House senior adviser Karl Rove recently met with several Nevada politicos from both parties who have worked closely with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), according to informed sources.

The nature and tenor of the meeting is in dispute, with some painting it as an unacknowledged but obvious attempt at bridge-building by Rove, while others cast it as an opportunity to vent against Reid’s tenure as Senate Minority Leader.

The meeting is the latest development in the complex relationship between Rove and Reid — a partnership that has grown strained since the Senator ascended to his party’s top post following the defeat of Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.) in 2004.

Present at Saturday’s meeting were Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign, Republican consultant Sig Rogich and public relations executives Billy Vassiliadis and Pete Ernaut. It was held the same day that Rove keynoted the Clark County Lincoln Day Dinner in Las Vegas.

None of the participants involved in the meeting returned calls seeking a full account of the nature of the proceedings. But sources familiar with the gathering agreed that Rove expressed a desire to work with Reid going forward.

Beyond that, some sources emphasized that several of the participants used the forum to express their displeasure with the way Reid has acted in Washington, D.C., since being elected Minority Leader. Other sources portrayed the meeting in a more positive light for Reid, arguing that it shows the Nevada Democrat has proven a stronger adversary than the White House expected.

What is certain is that the four known attendees have varying ties to Reid and Bush.

Ensign, following his narrow defeat by Reid in 1998, was elected to the Senate in 2000 and immediately became a friend and political partner with his former rival.

The failure of Republicans to field a serious challenge to Reid in 2004 was ascribed at least in part to the friendship between the two.

Ensign, who stands for re-election next November, also has not drawn a top-tier opponent and none appears to be on the horizon.

For their part, Rogich, Vassiliadis and Ernaut are three of the most powerful men in state politics who do not hold elective office.

Rogich heads a large political and corporate consulting operation based in Las Vegas and has long been a leading fundraiser for Republicans.

In the 2004 election, however, Rogich helped organize a group of Republicans supporting Reid, citing his “longstanding” friendship with the Senator as his primary motivator.

Rogich did not make any contributions to Reid but he did give $1,500 to Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) — the only Democrat to receive a campaign donation from Rogich last cycle.

Both Vassiliadis and Ernaut are affiliated with R & R Partners, an advertising and public relations firm that Rogich founded and eventually sold to Vassiliadis. It is best known for devising the “What happens here, stays here” ad campaign for Las Vegas.

Vassiliadis is a long-time Democratic giver and operative who played a major role in the campaigns of then-Gov. Bob Miller (D) and has served as an adviser to Reid.

Ernaut, who joined R & R in 2004, served as chief of staff to Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) and was also involved in Ensign’s elections to the House and Senate.

Both Reid and Rove were born in Nevada. Reid is from the tiny town of Searchlight in southern Nevada while Rove hails from the larger city of Sparks, near Lake Tahoe.

In March 2003, Reid said that he and Rove were “friends,” adding: “We have dinner together all the time.”

That relationship appears to have soured, however, since Reid has become Democratic leader.

As such, he has led the charge against the use of the “nuclear,” or “Constitutional,” option, which would eliminate the right of the minority party to filibuster judicial nominees.

Rove has been an ardent advocate for up-or-down votes on the seven Bush nominees currently being opposed by Democrats.

Judges aside, Reid has emerged as an outspoken critic of the Bush administration, going so far as to call the president a “loser” while speaking to a group of Nevada students Friday. Soon afterwards, Reid called Rove to apologize.

In February, Reid called on the White House to apologize for a research document put out by the Republican National Committee that portrayed him as a liberal obstructionist. The Bush administration denied knowledge of the document but did not apologize.

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