CARSON CITY, Nev. - Democrat Ed Bernstein took the first formal steps in his likely U.S. Senate bid on Monday, filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and forming an exploratory campaign committee.
In filing ''statement of candidacy'' and ''statement of organization'' papers with the FEC, Bernstein said he has been ''encouraged to run by virtually everyone'' with whom he has talked Nevada and national politics.
The list in the past several weeks has included President Bill Clinton; Vice President Al Gore; Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
The wealthy Las Vegas lawyer also has huddled with U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate minority whip who barely survived a challenge from Republican John Ensign in 1998.
Ensign is running again in 2000, for the seat Sen. Dick Bryan, D-Nev., is vacating, and Reid had urged the early Democratic front-runner, state Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, to get out of the race. When she did, that cleared the path for Bernstein.
Bernstein, 50, also has meet with Nevada union leaders, who had joined with the national AFL-CIO in unsuccessfully targeting Ensign when he won a second term in Congress in 1996.
Bernstein didn't declare himself a candidate as he filed his FEC papers on Monday - but took some hard shots at Ensign in a statement that makes it clear his announcement isn't far off.
''The people of this state are becoming increasingly concerned that John Ensign does not share their values,'' Bernstein said, adding that he's pro-choice while Ensign is pro-life.
Bernstein also said he'll fight to protect Nevadans denied care by health maintenance organizations, and Ensign has been a big recipient of HMO money because he sided with them ''in their efforts to deny needed health care to patients.''
Bernstein also said he's flatly opposed to a nuclear dump in Nevada but Ensign ''has a mixed record'' on the dump issue.
But Bernstein, who has never sought an elective office in Nevada, conceded Ensign has an early lead and has stated he'll have more than $2 million in campaign funds by January.
Ensign spokesman Mike Slanker has termed Bernstein a liberal who's going to spend millions of dollars of his own money on his campaign. He added it's not clear what Bernstein stands for.
Slanker also has attributed Ensign's fund-raising success to the former congressman's personal efforts and the fact that this isn't like last year's race against Reid. He said many political fence-sitters in 1998 are now clearly in Ensign's camp.