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Ensign, Reid: What happens in Nevada politics gets blabbed all over

July 21, 2009 |  2:22 am

The Las Vegas Skyline

Nevada is somewhat like Mayberry with casinos.

With a statewide population smaller than Orange County’s, all the state's political players are intertwined – especially in this season of summery scandal.

Our Kevin Bacon is Republican Sen. John Ensign (sometimes called Johnny Casino, though we prefer the nickname Love Veterinarian). His recent admission that Mom and Dad gave his mistress and her family $96,000 – described by Ensign’s attorney as gifts for family friends – has ramifications for most of Nevada’s five-member congressional delegation.

The Mayberry police force

Though Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has dodged that fray, the Ensign scandal could determine whom he spends oodles of money fighting in 2010. Reid’s latest cash tally: $7.3 million on hand.

The GOP’s top choice, Nevada Rep. Dean Heller, had $255,000 on hand . If he were truly determined to challenge Reid, such fundraising would be like stockpiling squirt guns to ward off a nuclear blast.

Heller could quickly close the chasm, but he’s reportedly watching the Ensign fallout, which could be substantial. A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has called for ethics, campaign finance and criminal investigations of Ensign, who has already resigned his GOP leadership post.

Last week, Ensign vowed to stay in office and run for re-election in 2012 – a move that GOP leaders met with silence and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow relentlessly mocked. (We’re fans of any segment with an explanatory cartoon. If Ensign makes it to another election cycle, longtime Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, has indicated she’d consider challenging him.

Should Ensign resign, as some Nevada conservatives have called for, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons would appoint a replacement. A few commentators have suggested – perhaps half-jokingly – that he might pick himself.

-- Ashley Powers

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Photos: Las Vegas. Credit: Las Vegas Visitors Bureau. Don Knotts and Andy Griffith in "The Andy Griffith Show."