Largely overlooked at first during all the congratulatory back slapping — which came with the news that Tesla Motors had built an earthen pad in

Thomas Mitchell

Be careful with whom you pick a fight. They might fight back with some heavy artillery.

For years Harry Reid has been obsessively ranting and mewling about the wealthy Koch brothers, Charles and David, for deigning to spend their own money to express their free speech rights. He has pejoratively mentioned the brothers from the well of the Senate more than 130 times.

He even has a page on his official Senate website devoted to lambasting the brothers Koch. According to the 17 talking points on the page, the Kochs want to pollute the air, foul the water, dismantle Social Security, Medicare, ObamaCare, minimum wage laws and public education.

Though the Koch brothers this election season are largely staying out of presidential politics, they are pouring money into Nevada in an effort to help a Republican capture Reid’s Senate seat, now that he is retiring. They have already spent $6 million backing Republican Rep. Joe Heck and attacking former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Reid’s hand-picked Democrat successor, according to ThinkProgess, a liberal website.

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC that is part of the Koch brothers’ network, currently is spending more than $600,000 on a television ad accusing Cortez Masto of outsourcing legal work to a D.C. law firm that later contributed to her election campaign, calling her a special interest politician.

According to the latest polls, Heck and Cortez Masto are tied, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in Nevada by more than 70,000 registered voters.

A story in the Las Vegas newspaper recently reported that the Kochs’ Americans For Prosperity is working on a so-called ground game to challenge Reid’s vaunted army of union volunteers who bus casino workers to the polls with pre-selected sample ballots.

The Kochs are putting their money where their mouths are.

Reid seems to think that money alone will persuade people, but there also has to be believable content in the message. Reid has pounded the Kochs so often he sounds like a broken record. His criticism seems downright hypocritical when the Senate minority leader can call a press conference at the drop of a hat and get coverage from a vast majority of the broadcast and print media — without spending a dime.

It looks like a proxy war is now breaking out, with the Koch brothers’ independent support of Heck’s senatorial campaign becoming the target of a nearly million-dollar television ad campaign by a group called the League of Conservation Voters.

The ad makes a non sequitur attempt to somehow link the fact the Koch brothers’ got filthy rich in the oil business — while most of us just got filthy in the grease orchard, but that’s a story for another day — to an alleged antipathy on Heck’s part for renewable energy.

The ad claims Heck’s alleged favoritism toward oil risks Nevada wind and solar energy jobs, even though less than 1 percent of electricity in this country is produced with oil.

As for jobs, it is the League of Conservation Voters that is attacking jobs. According to its own website, it pushes for a tougher Endangered Species Act, which kills jobs, opposes drilling anywhere, which kills jobs, and wants to shut down any activity that contributes to carbon production, which kills jobs.

Heck sent out a press release countering the claims in the ad.

“While Dr. Heck has been a strong supporter of solar jobs in Nevada, including legislation to streamline renewable energy development across the state, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is a DC-based partisan special interest that wants to put Nevadans out of work by stopping responsible mining, ranching, agriculture and recreation,” Heck spokesperson Brian Baluta said. “And, as Attorney General, Catherine Cortez Masto showed herself to be no friend of solar when she introduced a bill to exempt the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) from the open meeting law, allowing the PUC to raise rates behind closed doors. This bogus attack has nothing to do with clean energy and everything to do with installing Chuck Schumer as the next Senate Majority Leader.”

In fact, Heck has backed tax credits for wind and solar, which, frankly, drive up the cost of power and kills jobs. So, he’s no purist.

On the League’s scorecard Heck’s voting record agreed with its stances only 8 percent of the time, compared to Reid’s 81 percent. There’s a contrast Heck should be proud of.

It’s going to get ugly, folks.

Thomas Mitchell is a longtime Nevada newspaper columnist. You may email him at thomasmnv@yahoo.com. He also blogs at http://4thst8.wordpress.com/.