Gibbons viewed as a possible U.S. Senate contender in 2004 |

Gibbons viewed as a possible U.S. Senate contender in 2004

BRENDAN RILEY, Associated Press Writer

Top Republican strategists are urging Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., to consider a run against Democratic Sen. Harry Reid in 2004.

“Any future opportunities will be sorted out over time,” Gibbons’ chief of staff Robert Uithoven said Monday. “There’s no decision as to what the future may hold at this point.”

But Gibbons, just re-elected to his fourth term, is “100 percent focused” on representing his sprawling Nevada district for the next two years, Uithoven said.

GOP inquiries about Gibbons’ future political ambitions included one from Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political strategist, after the November elections that resulted in Gibbons easily winning another term.

The same election resulted in a shift in Senate control that will change Reid’s status as majority whip to minority whip. But nothing changed in Reid’s busy fund-raising efforts for 2004 candidates — including himself.

Reid said Monday that he hasn’t stopped raising money — which he did for scores of Democratic candidates in the 2002 elections. He already has more than $1 million in his campaign fund.

Reid also said Gibbons would be a strong opponent — but “I’ve run against some heavyweights before. So I’m going to train as if I have another heavyweight fight.”

“I’ll get my campaign together and I’ll be prepared for anyone who runs against me,” added Reid, who would be running for a fourth six-year term.

Reid will need to be prepared. He reportedly angered Bush by calling him a liar because of the president’s comments and actions on locating the nation’s nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

If Gibbons doesn’t run for the Senate, other possible candidates might include Secretary of State Dean Heller — who was just re-elected and could run for the Senate in the middle of his current term.

The Republican effort to find a strong challenger against Reid would put Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., in what he terms “a very difficult position” since he has a strong friendship with Reid.

Ensign, on the TV program “Face to Face,” said last week that he’d have to “do certain things. There’s no question about it.”

“We’ll do what’s necessary,” he added.

Ensign spokeswoman Traci Scott declined to elaborate Monday, saying only that Ensign was “sticking with his statement” made last week.